My Mentor, My Friend

15 years ago, almost to the date, I received the call that changed my professional life in a way that I could have never imagined.  I had finally agreed to take on the role of Acting Vice Principal and my first assignment was at W. Sherwood with Diane DuMaresq as my administrative partner.

I clearly recall that day in mid-April when I nervously drove from my current school to Fox for my first meeting with Diane. I worried about what to wear, what I would say and what would be expected of me.

I sat in the front office area and peered through the window where I could see Diane firmly converse with a student about an issue on the schoolyard.  Once the student was dismissed, I was invited in. I recall sitting and listening and rarely getting in a word. Diane and her matter of fact, rapid-fire description of the school, mesmerized me. When my allotted time was finished, I stood up to leave and experienced that awkward moment of how to execute a graceful exit.  Diane alleviated the confusion by wrapping her arms around me and giving me a warm hug.

That day was the first day of my apprenticeship ~ it was an education in leadership, learning and unconditional support.

No one intentionally crossed or questioned Diane.  She was small in stature but mighty in personality. I recall our very first day together as an admin team. It was our June PD day. The staff was gathered in the library and I was following Diane, waiting for a task.  She breezed into the room, dropped the pile of books on the table and said, “Well, staffing if f$%^&*(.   I must have looked shocked at the use of profanity, but the staff all laughed and I knew immediately that that was just another one of Diane’s trademarks.

The next 2 years were filled with lots of laughter, a great deal of learning and a few tears along the way. Diane epitomized the servant leader role. She would do anything to ensure that staff could focus on the job of teaching and learning.  I watched in amazement as she would sit beside a teacher and help him craft report card comments.   I watched and listened as she went toe to toe with a parent who had accused a teacher of not covering the curriculum.  She continued to support that teacher, as the complaint made its way to the Director.

Diane never shied away from conflict or controversy. Her staff knew when she was upset and the cause of her consternation (usually something at the system level).  However, through every situation, it was clear that she loved them and had their back.

I recall a time when a staff member felt she was ready to move forward and Superintendents provided the message that she needed more time in the classroom.  At both professional and personal cost, Diane risked her own reputation and experienced the wrath of others in order to demonstrate her support of that staff member.

As she entered the final year of her career, it was her desire that I transition from the role of VP to the role of principal at Fox. I remember thinking that I would never be able to fill her shoes and that our styles were so different.  However, in true Diane fashion, once she set her mind to something, there was no stopping her.  In order to ensure the success of her plan, we started the year with her taking on 0.5 of my LST assignment, so that I could take on 1.0 of the admin role.  Therefore, by the time December rolled around, it was seamless and the Superintendent had no choice but to support the plan.

That selflessness ran through Diane’s heart! 

Sadly, Diane passed away last week after a short battle with cancer.  She has left an impact on every educator whose back she had and whose practice was pushed because of her support.  She has left an impact on every student who she encouraged to be the best they could be. She has left an impact on families who wanted assurance that their child’s school was a safe place.

I wish I had written this public acknowledgement earlier, so that she might have read it and known, once again, how truly indebted I am for her mentorship, her leadership and most importantly her friendship.

Who has influenced your career? Have you taken the opportunity to let them know what they’ve meant to you…..before it’s too late.


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