Tribute to Eric Kielich

honoring 37 Years at Mount Tamalpais School

Teacher Nancy Tracy and alum Justin Wells share anecdotes about Eric in stories below.


BY NANCY TRACY

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When first asked to make a few remarks today, I found myself strangely resistant. In fact, I sort of rebelled against the concept. Initially, I thought this was related to general task avoidance, but after examining my gut feeling, I realized my obstacle was an inability to come to terms with having a cherished friend and colleague depart from my day-to-day life. Eric and I had always hoped to “go out together,” his words. We have worked together so long and spent so many years of our lives in collaboration and communication that I honestly struggle to see myself at school next year without him. Of course, I’m delighted for Eric and Mary and know that their life on the other side of the commute from hell is going to be wonderful. However, even though Eric and I have “slowly” gone gray together, there is a big part of me that feels like a kid sister watching wistfully out of the house window as her big brother drives off to college.

I have particularly valued my partnership with Eric because, in spite of our different temperaments, we agree on what is fundamentally important. This blend of styles has worked well. As a somewhat scattered personality, who admittedly deals with most things in the moment, Eric has seen it as part of his mission to keep me up to speed with what he thinks I should have on my radar. Basically, at the beach of school life, Eric has always looked out at the horizon while I’ve just tried to keep the waves from splashing my towel. Serious peer pressure has forced me to realize how much better life can be if you at least look at the tide line and properly punctuate a sentence.

In addition to contributing to my professional growth, Eric has kept me amused. His memory for country-western song titles, 1960’s TV shows, political trivia, and the quirks of former students is truly astounding. His Inspector Clouseau imitation is spot on, and his Rodney Dangerfield’s the best. Of course my favorite is Ronald Reagan, “Now Nancy, just say no.” And to his credit, Eric has been the butt of my sarcastic comments for years and taken it remarkably well.

Eric has filled many roles at our school and done all of these jobs to the best of his ability. There have even been times when he was truly heroic. One of my most vivid school memories is of Eric running around the roof of the new gym in his bathrobe on Pajama Day with a fire extinguisher aimed at flare-ups during the “Big Fire.” It was classic take-charge Kielich.

On the human decency and professional standards scale, Eric beats pretty much everyone. Eric deals. When something comes up, Eric is on it. He is professional and responsible to the core. Nothing slides or is ignored. Eric knows details matter. He pays attention to them. He attends to them. He follows through. He connects with children, parents, and fellow teachers in a wise, compassionate, fatherly way that makes a difference. Eric has a pure sense of right and wrong and how people should move through this world that I find incredibly endearing. In his book, there are just basic thresholds that a person does not cross. And in Eric’s heart, he doesn’t see how anyone can, because he never does or would.

Eric has always enjoyed his students and holds them to high standards. If a student can do something better, he requires improvement. On this level, I’d like to say a personal thank you. Two of my children are scientists. They got their start here. Both of them are successful not only because of the high standards Eric set but because of the seeds of curiosity and wonder he planted.  A colleague of one of my daughters recently remarked that Sally’s ability to communicate their research so successfully when publishing articles in scientific journals has been key to their process and funding. That clarity started here with Eric’s insistence on the importance of clear, well-developed scientific writing. Eric always got the knowledge/process/product balance right. My family benefitted, and I’m grateful.

As a school, we are evolving and changing, and in the words of the Gettysburg Address, it is altogether fitting and proper that we do so, but Eric and I are part of an earlier time and feel the deep roots of this past. For years, we have watched students walk across the stage in June and share a deep sense of pride in our product. A major part of the success we feel is the result of Eric’s constancy, his standards, his insistence on integrity and decency, and his excitement about learning new things and sharing them with others. Our school is so much better because of his dedication.

Eric, on a personal level, thank-you for being such a wonderful friend and for your years of wise counsel. As you drive off into the beautiful world beyond, with Old Blue Eyes blaring on your sound system, don’t forget to pull into the MTS parking lot from time to time to tell us where you’ve been. I know I will be working along, but always watching for your car to come home.  


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BY JUSTIN WELLS, ‘86

Eric’s reputation as a science educator shines so brightly that many are not aware or have forgotten that he also taught English when he first started at Mt. Tam. I was lucky to be a student then. Eric had us chalking our “Show Don’t Tell” paragraphs up on the blackboard. We studied the power of the sensory image, the effect of the well-positioned phrase. Eric would read beautiful writing out loud to us, and through that sonorous voice of his, I learned to attend to the sound of words. Eric was my first great writing teacher.

He went on to focus on the teaching of science, a discipline that we dichotomize from the arts. But the arc of Eric’s career always made sense to me. What he taught—whether it was science or English or backpacking—was how to pay attention.

If you’re going to a place as special as Yosemite, then you better prepare: study the geology, know the history, read John Muir, and practice how to be still. Don’t wait until you get there. Walk to the grove across the street, spread out, get alone, listen, look, and record what you are sensing.

Prepare, so that you can pay attention. These are lessons for life. I owe so much to this great teacher, this great man.