My father-in-law Paul, was born on this date (October 17) in 1916, two years before the dreaded Spanish Flu Pandemic and more than a decade before the Great Depression. His father was born in Lithuania and was an indentured servant until he was able to escape to America, the “Land of the Free”. Paul was born in Baltimore, the 3rd of 5 sons. A great storyteller, he would regale us with amazing memories. For example, his favorite teacher growing up in the 1920s was “Miss Booth”, a matronly spinster rumored to be a cousin of John Wilkes Booth, whose family had lived outside of Baltimore.
As I got to know Paul, it became apparent that he was a most remarkable man. He was born to teach and math was his forte. One night at the dinner table about 15 years ago, I asked Paul out of curiosity, whether he knew how many years he had been teaching. Ironically, despite being a math wizard, he had never done that calculation! As it turns out, he started teaching in 1934 (after graduating college at the age of 18) and to that point had been teaching well over 70 consecutive years. We wondered whether he might qualify for the Guinness Book of Records. They requested detailed information – we contacted the Social Security Administration and received Paul’s records dating to the late 1930s (Social Security did not exist when Paul began teaching)! Amazingly, Baltimore City had Paul’s earliest teaching records. Nonetheless, the Guinness Book of Records rejected our application, stating that the record holder was Medarda de Jesus Leon de Uzcategui who began teaching at age 12!
As it turns out, reviewing Paul’s teaching records turned out to be a treasure trove because we learned that he taught at 20 different schools. They ranged from elementary level math through college calculus, spanning secular and religious domains and Universities that were public (University of Maryland), prestigious (Johns Hopkins) and historically of color (Coppin State). Paul also taught at Fort Meade and worked on military cartography during World War II.
To Paul, math was a universal language to be shared selflessly and tirelessly with others.
When Paul celebrated his 75th consecutive year of teaching, he received a congratulatory letter from one of our current Presidential candidates. The following year, he was elected to the National Teacher’s Hall of Fame. To see their special tribute posted today, click here.
Paul taught math for 80 consecutive years, finally retiring at age 98. Having taught thousands of students (including families of 3 generations), he will tell you that his greatest achievement is his family (7 children plus grandkids/great-grandkids). He taught all of us that “if you love what you do, you will never work a day in your life“. For Paul, it has been a life well lived and words to live well by…Wishing you a Very Happy Birthday!!
Michael Miller, MD is Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland.