Many years ago I was working at Paul Revere Middle School when I had the pleasure of interviewing a young man who was seeking a position as an English teacher. There was something magical about Bob Buley that game across during the interview. He had a twinkle in his eyes and an enthusiasm about life and people that made him enchanting. To say that I was quite taken with him would be to underestimate my strong desire to hire him on the spot. I was quite pleased to learn that the principal was in total agreement with me. We both viewed Bob as being someone who would be passionate and warm in his approach to teaching and it took little time for us to learn that we had indeed been right in our initial assessment of this young educator.
Bob Buley grew up in New York state. He was small in stature but his heart was so big that his size seemed so much larger. He had the look of an impish soul who was always just a moment away from telling a joke, a story, or a tall tale. He entertained his students as much as he taught them. In many ways he was a kind of performer who took the dryer aspects of an English class and turned them into memorable moments that his students and his supervisors would never quite forget. I always enjoyed spending time in his classroom and usually walked away with a lighter step and a smile on my face. Mostly I noticed just how much Bob loved his students. He was one of those teachers who went out of his way to do just a bit more than what was required. Bob touched hearts and souls and made a difference in lives that were sometimes crying out for help.
I will never ever forget the day that the twin towers of the World Trade Center fell. Our school was chaotic as frightened parents formed a line outside of the office waiting to take their young ones home to safety. The principal assigned me the task of looking out after Bob. He had learned that both of Bob’s parents worked in the World Trade Center and in spite of many efforts Bob had not been able to find out whether or not they were safe. The principal had given Bob access to a private phone in the conference room and had told him to take as long as he needed to confirm his parents’ whereabouts.
It was a rough day for everyone but Bob was in agony. He desperately needed to know what the fate of his mom and dad had been but all of his efforts had been to no avail. In between helping to safely dismiss students as their parents arrived I returned again and again to check on Bob whose face drained of color as the hours went agonizingly by. Ultimately I walked into the room where he was staying to find him listening to someone on the other end of the line. He was on his knees, sobbing hysterically. Fearing the worst I ran to find the principal. I felt that we were about to hear some horrific news.
By the time that the two of us returned to the conference room Bob was sitting calmly in a chair with tears rolling down his cheeks. He told us that his were emotions of relief and joy. His parents were alive and well. It seems that they had awakened on that beautiful September day and had decided to play hooky from work. They instead went on a picnic, a move that was completely uncharacteristic of them. In fact Bob said that he could not remember a single day when his parents had missed work, even when they were sick. He saw their fate that day as a kind of miracle, realizing that had they been on their jobs they may not have made it. He was overjoyed and we were moved.
Bob spent a great deal of time talking openly with his students about what his fears had been with regard to 9/11 and allowing them to express their own. He gave his kids a bird’s eye account of the World Trade Center and what it had been like before the tragedy. He explained what the entire ordeal meant to the people of New York City. He read them a story of an acrobat who had dared to walk between the two buildings high above the city of New York. His students were transfixed by the way that he wove his lessons so that they were able to talk about the incident while still learning the skills that were a necessary part of the curriculum.
Bob was at heart an athlete. He had played a number of sports in high school and perhaps his favorite was wrestling. Realizing that many students needed an outlet for their energy he started a wrestling team. It became a favorite activity at the school. Bob taught his young men not just the holds and the methods of the sport but also how to be gentlemen on the court. His reputation as a solid coach and role model quickly spread. Many of his kids were recruited for high school wrestling teams and before long schools were seeking the expertise of Bob as well. Sadly Paul Revere Middle School lost him when he accepted a job as wrestling coach at Strake Jesuit College Preparatory School. It was in reality a perfect fit for Bob and those of us who knew him best realized that he had indeed found his niche.
Time has a way of moving quickly. I lost track of Bob Buley but always spoke highly of him and often thought of his positive presence and wondered how he was doing. Yesterday I received a message from a former colleague at Paul Revere and learned that Bob had died in September while I was away on my trip to the midwest. Bob was only forty seven years old, young enough to be my son. I found out that he had a cancer that spread quickly. He died shortly after his diagnosis. He left behind the two parents for whom he had been so frightened on that long ago day. He also had a wife and two children that I know he adored for he had spoken of them so often and so lovingly. They were the reason for almost everything that he did.
My heart ached at knowing that such a positive force in this world had gone away. Bob truly was a light in the darkness, a kind heart in an often uncaring world. To know him was to feel the presence of someone unique. I can see Bob’s smile as though he is standing right in front of me. It had a power to turn even the darkest day into a moment of laughter. Bob Buley was warm and compassionate but tough when he had to be. He fought for his students and always did exactly what he believed was right and just for them. He was a guileless and generous soul. I always understood exactly what was on Bob’s mind and more often than not it was some kind of plan to improve the world in which his students lived. He didn’t just talk. He was a man of action.
Reading the tributes that people left for Bob Buley did not surprise me at all. Friends from his childhood days recalled a fun loving and spirited soul who somehow made everyone feel just a bit better about himself. Former students spoke of being continually inspired by him. Parents gave thanks that their children had enjoyed the positive influence of this remarkable man. Fellow teachers and coaches remembered his honor and integrity. He died far too early but his impact was already greater than most of us achieve in double the lifetimes.
I suppose that I will never quite comprehend the mystery of life and death. It is difficult to understand why someone like Bob who had so much more to give would be snatched from all of us. The loss of this man is huge, most especially for his wife and his children.
I would have liked to see Bob Buley one more time. He was one of my very favorite people. He was as good a man as there ever has been. I am certain that he is enjoying a special place in heaven. Perhaps my mother was right in noting the that truly good die young. In the case of Bob Buley it would be difficult to find someone more loving, dedicated, and passionate about all people. Rest in peace, Bob! You have surely earned the rewards of eternal rest.