Ralph Bradshaw died Wednesday night. He was just a teacher.
I had him for junior English at Coronado High School, where he pushed a young man with miniskirted coeds on his mind to read serious novels. I told him they were boring and reading them was hard. He made no attempt to make them relevant to me or dumb them down. Instead, he told me that I must read them because they were hard and if I was willing to find the tunnel into them they would be anything but boring. He was right, of course, and years later I realized he was teaching from "the great books," the canon. In his early thirties at the time, Mister Bradshaw sported fashionably longish hair and a moustache, looking almost a hippie compared with some of his older peers. But beneath this was an incisive mind, a setter of high standards, passionate supporter of quality and something of a square (in a good way). A sponsor of many extracurricular activities and sometime director in the theater, he was also great fun. He was just a teacher.
He contacted me when I returned to Phoenix in 2000 as a columnist for the Arizona Republic with a first novel coming out. By then retired, he had lost none of his intellect, dry wit and interest in his students. I have some mixed feelings about that decision to come back home. At the time, I was riding higher in my newspaper career than I ever would again and had offers and feelers from around the country, including one that might have resulted in attaining my lifelong dream of going to New York City. And things didn't exactly turn out well after speaking truth to power. But if I hadn't returned, I never would have gotten to know Mister Bradshaw with the gift of years to illuminate all that I owed him.