A Father’s Day Tribute: Dedicated to Leburn Kirk

by Sally Kirk Goodman–

My father was one of the most positive influences in my life. His determination, courage, sense of justice, and perseverance are qualities that I aspire to develop in my own character. Daddy wasn’t a rich man or politically influential, but he was one of the best teachers and principals I’ve ever known. If there was a child in need he would move mountains to make sure they had what they needed to participate in school and school activities. His old station wagon was constantly filled with children to take home after ballgames or other competitions. He was loved by many and hated by a few, but he took that in stride. When I voiced my concern about any negativity, his comment was always, “Sally, they crucified Jesus Christ, and he was perfect. If I wasn’t making a few folks mad, I wouldn’t be doing my job.” And what a job he did.

After his death, I was especially touched by how many former students shared with me about the love and respect they had for him, and almost all would say, “You know, I was one of his favorites.” And they were right. He had a wonderful way of finding what was unique about his students and building a rapport with them based on that quality. He was reading tests and individualizing instruction long before it became the law. Ignacio Estrada’s famous quote “If they can’t learn the way we teach, then maybe we should teach the way they learn” summed up perfectly his philosophy of education.

Kirk accepting his Jefferson Award for his accomplishments and hard work in education.

Not only was he a great teacher, he was a great neighbor. He believed in his community and in giving back to the people in it. His loyalty and love was unconditional. If he believed in you, no one could sway him from that belief. Due to a physical injury he experienced as a young man, he was limited physically, but he would tell people he had a “crew.” And he did. My mother, siblings, and I were his crew and projects were usually fun because we were all together. You could almost always count on a Spam sandwich for lunch and a little bottled Coke and candy bar for an afternoon snack. Life was more than good.

He was blessed with what some referred to as the “gift of gab.” He was an excellent speaker and served as a lay speaker for our church and emcee for many of our school and community events. He was a great storyteller, and all of his stories were based on the truth and included much of our family history. One of my biggest regrets was not taping him while he spoke, but I usually was too enthralled by the stories to think about taping. He was an oral historian in the finest sense of the word, and I hope I will always be able to share his stories with my children and grandchildren.

He was devoted to my mother, and what better example can a child have than that. I remember him buttering her biscuits when they were served and before we even asked the blessing. He’d give us that big old Kirk grin and say, “Her momma use to do this for her when she was a little girl. It’s my job now.” But the most caring and beautiful thing he did for Mother was to wash her feet every night before she slipped them beneath the covers. She wasn’t one to go barefoot and hated to put her “dirty” feet on her clean sheets even if she had just had a shower. So Daddy would take a warm cloth and wash and dry them each night for her. If he could have written a song for her, I believe he would have written, “You’re the Wind Beneath My Wings.” He always said he could never repay her for nursing him back to health after his injury and he believed she could do anything. With his belief in her, she was pretty much invincible.

His love for his family both immediate and extended was fierce. He once shared in our youth Sunday school class that he had to confess some things to God he knew he’d never overcome. He felt it was worse to feel the way he did and be a hypocrite about it than to just admit his shortcoming. I couldn’t imagine what he was about to share. We all sat there expectantly as he told us he knew he could kill to protect his family. My first emotion was shock. My good, sweet Daddy could not be sitting here telling us in Sunday school he could kill someone under any circumstance. It would be over a decade later before my first child was born. When Daddy walked into my hospital room after her birth, I said, “Daddy, I could kill.” It took the birth of my own child before I understood the kind of protective love you have for your child. We both ask God to forgive us for the way we felt, but I think God already understood.

He was awarded the Jefferson Award for his hard work and accomplishments in education near the end of his career. What a way to closeout such a wonderful career. He was the only man that year among those honored. He felt that was very fitting. You see, as an elementary principal and teacher, most of his staff were women. The inequity in salaries and opportunities were not lost on him or them. In the old days, principals had to go before the county commissioners for their school budgets, including their staff’s salaries. When he confronted them about the pay inequity, he was told the reason for the inequity was because the female employees were not the “head of household.” That didn’t shut him up, he rattled off the name of several of his female staff who were either single or widowed and reminded the commissioners that they were the heads of their households. His perseverance eventually helped to pave the way for equal pay for equal work – one of his proudest accomplishments.

Daddy did not live a very long life, but he lived a very full life and touched the hearts of many. When he left this world, I believe he left it a better place. What more can any of us do than that? Happy Father’s Day, Daddy. I love you, I miss you, and I’ll see you on the other side.