A Guardian Angel

i282600889614175217._szw1280h1280_My connection to South Houston Intermediate runs deep. Both of my girls attended that school in their junior high years. Eventually I began teaching there and spent more of my professional life within its halls than any other place. All in all South Houston Intermediate was a constant in almost two decades of my life and they were good, very good times. 

Long before I worked at South Houston I heard about the assistant principal who struck fear in the hearts of the students. His name was Buddy Gillioz and my eldest daughter spoke his name with a mixture of fear and reverence. She often told me that she would not have wanted to attend the school had it not been for Mr. Gillioz’ presence. He was the disciplinarian and he ran a tight ship. She always knew that she would be safe with him at the helm. Still she worried that she might one day become the object of his ire, a state that no student wanted to experience.

My youngest daughter also knew of Mr. Gillioz’ reputation. She towed the line lest he one day call her to the office. She often mentioned how much students quaked whenever a runner came to the door of a classroom with a request for some poor soul to visit the assistant principal’s inner sanctum. When the day came for her to be one of the invited guests she almost passed out. 

Little did she know that I had called Buddy Gillioz with a complaint. Catherine’s brand new purse had gone missing. She eventually saw another student proudly parading around the school with her pocketbook. The girl was a well known bully and so my daughter was unwilling to approach her to reclaim her stolen goods. Instead Catherine simply complained to me, not thinking that I would deign to do anything about it.

Of course I was furious and called the school. I spoke with Buddy Gillioz and explained the entire situation. I wanted him to get the purse without drawing attention to Catherine who was quite fearful of an unpleasant encounter with the student who had taken it. Mr. Gillioz assured me that all would soon be fine and he was as good as his word.

When Catherine entered his office her legs were shaking and she had lost all color in her face. She tried without success to imagine what she might have done wrong. At first Mr. Gillioz played with her a bit. He addressed her sternly and asked why she thought she was there. Catherine nervously admitted that she had no idea. Then the impish administrator let out an uproarious laugh and held up her purse. “Did you lose this?” 

Catherine was instantly relieved and became even more so as Mr. Gillioz told her how he had fooled the thief into admitting that the purse was not hers without giving Catherine away. Then he began talking with her and mentioning how nice it was to be able spend some time with such a sweet girl rather than the characters who so often tried his patience. He suggested that Catherine stay for a few minutes to give the illusion that he was fussing at her about something. He told her not to tell anyone that her visit to the office was so friendly when she returned to class. That way the other girl would never think of Catherine as being the one who revealed her crime. After that he often smiled and waved at Catherine whenever he saw her in the halls of the school.

Once I began working at South Houston Intermediate I realized that Buddy Gillioz was the heartbeat of the school. I have to admit that even I was a bit intimidated by his no nonsense, take no prisoners attitude, but as a teacher I understood that he always had my back. One day I too became one of those unfortunate souls who was called to his office. He spoke of a detention assignment that I had made and then rescinded. He fussed at me for losing my nerve and insisted that I think through my actions more carefully in the future. He let me know that if the students began to think that they or their parents might talk me out of the punishments that I gave them, I would be doomed for failure. He urged me to consider my actions before assigning detentions or extra homework and then stick with my decision no matter how much the students protested. His was advice that changed me from a nervous classroom manager into a confident one. 

From that day forward Buddy Gillioz was my hero and over time I learned things about him that were more and more impressive. Several years after I had been at the school one of my former students returned to visit with me. He had been a real handful when I taught him but I always believed that he would ultimately become a fine adult and he did not disappoint me. The young man told me that he had become a police officer. His life was good and he decided that he wanted to come to the school to thank the adults who had most impacted his life. I was humbled that I was one of those that he chose. 

I asked him what each of us had done to help him and what had turned his life around. He confided that the first and most important influence had been God, followed by his parents and the members of his church who often prayed for him. Then came Mr. Gillioz. I listened intently as he described his love/hate relationship with the assistant principal. This was, after all, a student who had spent a great deal of time in the office and attending detention hall. He explained that Mr. Gillioz had always believed in him and even watched over him. He said that there were times when Mr. Gillioz literally followed him home so that he would not stop along the way and get into serious trouble. Mr. Gillioz kept up his concern for the boy even into high school. The former student was certain that he would be in jail had it not been for this remarkable man. 

That was Buddy Gillioz. He quietly and unceremoniously watched over all of us. I had the habit of staying quite late at school. I offered afternoon tutoring sessions and often prepared my classroom for the next day’s lessons. It was not unusual at all for me to still be there well after dark. One evening Mr. Gillioz surprised me as I worked away. He politely and with a bit of a wink begged me to please finish up so that he might go home. I had not realized that he never left the building until I was safely in my car heading for my house. He had been doing that for years without ever complaining. It was just the way he was, always thinking about all of us as though we were part of a vast family.

It was only when Buddy Gillioz was retiring that I finally learned what an exceptional life he had led. He graduated from Santa Fe High School.  From there he went to the University of Houston where he was named an All American tackle. He was the second round draft pick of the Los Angles Rams but ultimately launched his career as a coach. He worked at South Houston and Sam Rayburn high schools before becoming an assistant principal at South Houston Intermediate. His influence was as wide as his grin but he never boasted about what he had done. He was a humble and good man. 

I kept up with Buddy Gillioz through our annual exchange of Christmas cards. He always wrote a special note inside his greeting. Once he said that I had been one of the finest educators that he had ever observed. That accolade coming from him was as important to me as a Presidential acknowledgement would have been. I tried to return the favor by telling him how positively he had affected me and my children and countless other kids but I never felt that I had fully explained just how wonderful I believed that he was. 

I learned this weekend that Buddy Gillioz had died. The praises for this man began to mount. He seemed to have touched the hearts of people wherever he went. He had been a faithful servant at his church, in his neighborhood, and throughout the community. He was bigger than life and sometimes intimidating but always well intentioned and loving. He will be missed. May he rest with the angels who now have a new guardian among them.

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