Servant Leader · 12 December 2015
My boss said that there are two times when people say good things about you, when you retire and when you die. He was hoping to put them both off for a while, but he is retiring. And people said some pretty nice things about him.
I have worked for Clarence Lavarias for eighteen and a half years. He is a great high school principal and a great boss. Cedarcrest High School and I will miss him.
The Riverview School District board recognized Clarence at their latest meeting. It was nice to hear all the nice things people said about him. Linda Bjornsen, his secretary for all but the last six months, and Greg Bawden, former school board member and chair, both said some nice words about him. All of the current board members, the two student representatives, the superintendent, and his secretary said wonderful things about him too. Then, people in the audience were invited to add. One of our teachers shared a touching story and our vice-principal shared some beautiful sentiments as well.
After all that, Clarence said the thing about the two times people say nice things about you. As always, he gave back to those around him and let us know that he was sad to leave his work family. He said he felt like he had more to do. But he knows in his heart of hearts that he needs to take care of his family. His parents’ health has been weighing heavily on him for a long time.
It was sad knowing that this was his final talk to the school board as the principal, but the public send-off was a fitting farewell.
When they asked if anybody in the audience would like to say something, I could not stand to share a few words. In fact, I could think of nothing to say. My mind was completely blank.
Actually, my mind was awash with memories of eighteen and a half years, and there were no words to adequately describe what Clarence has meant to me during that time. But maybe in writing, I can come close.
Clarence and I have a special bond. We are twins. Okay. Not really. We do not share the same parents and we were born in different years. (He is eight years older.) But we do share the same birthday. It has been fun saying, “Happy birthday” to him nineteen times and hearing him saying the same words back nineteen times. We usually say the same old joke of being twins too.
But our bond goes beyond having the same birthday. Apparently, we look alike.
Clarence and I have been mistaken many times over the years. Sometimes by the same people over and over again. It is funny, but each of us likes to say the same thing to the person mistaking us for the other guy. That the other guy is the more handsome one. (Only one of us is correct and in this case it is me. Clarence is dashing and looks great all the time.) I am always honored that somebody would mistake me for him. Not just for the looks, but for who he is.
In reality, Clarence has a special bond with many people. And I know why.
Clarence has always been the servant leader at our school. In military terms he is unlike the general sitting far back from the front giving orders to his troops. That general who thinks his men are merely tools to be used to accomplish his goals. Clarence is not like that at all. He is like the commander leading his troops into battle. I have the vision of Teddy Roosevelt leading his troops up San Juan Hill. Or the vision of a Rabbi washing the feet of His disciples. Or the vision of the star basketball player drawing the defenders in order to dish the ball to a teammate for the final score. These are my visions of a servant leader. They are my visions of the kind of leader Clarence has always been for his people. And those visions are backed up with what I have actually seen.
I do not know how many times I have heard Clarence tell people that he was willing to take the heat for a decision that made sense for students or staff, but might not have been the popular stance. Adrian Lawrence, my colleague who spoke at the school board meeting said that he knew early on what kind of a leader we had when Clarence defended the math teachers and the path they were on despite the results that may have indicated the contrary. I have heard Clarence tell students and staff that if something they wanted to do made sense for the betterment of the school, he would back them up and help get rid of roadblocks standing in their way. And I know he had more of those types of battles than any of us will ever know about. Things always ran smoothly because the guy in the front office was doing the dirty work behind the scenes.
I must confess that I have actually seen Clarence do dirty work.
Each year our administrators would cook breakfast for their secretaries. They did not do it grudgingly. They rolled up their sleeves and donned their aprons and went to work. They cooked and cleaned and enjoyed their time together with their special people. Smiling every minute.
Things will not be the same at our school when Clarence leaves. Thankfully, he has left his vision in good hands. He has mentored his successors and they have the same mentality as he always had. They, like Clarence before them, want the best for our school. To do what is best for students and staff. Even so, I will still miss my old boss.
I wanted to say something at the school board meeting even though I really just wanted to be there to honor a great man. But I understand now why I could say nothing. Why my mind could think of no words to say. I realize now that I could not give justice to Clarence and what he has meant to me with just a few words or even a few hundred.
Clarence has been a great example of servant leadership. He has fought battles that we will never hear or know about. He has been a great boss and a great friend. And we will always have a special bond because he will always be my twin.
There might be only two times when people speak well of most people, but I know many who will speak highly of Clarence long after he retires.
Thank you Clarence for being part of my life for the past eighteen years. May God bless you as you go.
© 2015 Michael T. Miyoshi
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