12 December 2014

What would Lura Do?

I'm not "in love" with my job, a statement of fact that bothers some when I tell it, but which seems to me an acceptable self-assessment of the work I do. That's not to say I hate my job. I don't hate it either.

Truth is, I'm just not sure "love" is a necessary emotion when it comes to actually being satisfied with one's work.

I am often pleased with the work I do.  In fact, at times I'm even proud of it.

But there are also times when I wish I could shut my office door, crawl beneath my desk, and hide.  Or not go in to the office at all on a given day and just stay home with the shades drawn and disappear into a good book.

But I can't.  Because I do important work.  And lots of people count on me to be ready to do it.  Every day.  Regardless of how I feel about it.

Up high on the wall behind my desk I keep a picture of a stoic, gray-haired old lady in wire-rimmed glasses and a smart blue suit.  I am greeted by her thoroughly humorless visage each morning as I unlock my office door and switch on the light.

Her name is Lura Kinsey.

Lura was the first principal at the school where I am now the principal.  She served in the front office at Marshall Elementary School for eight years, from 1953, when the school first opened its doors, until she retired in 1961.

Lura, a Flagstaff native, began her teaching career in 1914.

She got her first job at Flagstaff's Emerson School after graduating from the Northern Arizona Normal School.  She taught elementary and middle school grades there for several years and eventually became the school administrator, a post she held for 18 years.

In 1951 she became the principal at John Q. Thomas School (then just a "wing" at Flagstaff High School), before transferring in 1953 to become the first principal at the brand-new Eva Marshall Memorial School, a post she held until her retirement at the end of her 47th year in public education, in the spring of 1961.

Miss Lura Kinsey's obituary (did she never marry?) ran in the local paper in 1965, just four short years later.

Today, Flagstaff Unified School District's Kinsey Elementary School is named in her honor.

A few years ago, during the tenure of a school librarian who was eager to cull the dust-collecting "chaff" from our school library's shelves, I rescued from the discard-pile William H. Cummings authoritative text, A History Of The Flagstaff Public Schools 1883-1950.  The tattered volume (with its badly rendered cover-drawing of what must be Flagstaff's first schoolhouse, which would have been occupied by none-other than Flagstaff's first teacher, the aforementioned Eva Marshall) now resides on a bookshelf in my office.

Aside from finding Lura's name among several of the many chronologies within, there are few direct, personal references made by the author, or those he interviewed, about Lura Kinsey.  The index lists only six references to her name in several hundred pages of history.  Of the few references to her at all, almost none make mention of her character or make statements that reveal anything of her personality or disposition.  Just one interview subject observes that "she had meticulous handwriting" and recollects that she was well-known as a stern task-master.  Neither implication is very revealing.

Nor are they very surprising.

Not to me.

I feel like I know Lura pretty well after some four years occupying her office.  And it doesn't surprise me at all to read that she was stern.  Her no-nonsense attitude is apparent to me each time I glance in her direction.

"Suck it up, sonny," That's what she tells me.

"Back to work.  No time for feeling sorry.  Your school's likely to run right off the rails if you don't get up and get going."

I look up at her a lot, especially when my days start feeling long, or worse, lonely.  And I imagine all that she must have seen and endured in the course of her 47-year career.

Lura's not smiling.  She doesn't strike me as someone "in love" with her job.  Not one bit.  But she doesn't look angry, or discouraged, or disappointed either.

To me, Lura looks like a woman who understood fully the scope of the important work she had to get done.  And I like to think, for 47 years, she probably got it done.   Well, too.

What would Lura do?  That's what I often wonder.

And then I go and do it.