Fate, if you believe in it, is an odd and capricious thing.
If Larry Brady had been able to fold proper paper airplanes, I would never have learned calculus in high school, so I would have been forced to take it in college — most likely with a thickly accented professor — and failed it miserably thereby not finishing my degree and likely dooming myself to a life of more misery and failure than I already have endured.
I guess one could safely say I owe a lot to Mr. Brady.
Budge and I were talking about math last night. Why, I don’t know. It’s one of those strange conversations married people have. Anyway, Budge HATES math. I blame Dad. Patience is not one of Dad’s cardinal virtues. He scarred her for life when he tried helping her with her algebra homework.
So we were talking about different kinds of math and Budge mentioned that she didn’t understand trigonometry. In about 15 minutes, I’d explained to her what it was, who used it, and why. I also gave her a rundown on mnemonics for the main trig functions. She wanted to know why it was so easy for me to learn and remember all this when she’d had such an impossible time with her high school math classes.
I answered her, “That’s easy; you never had Mr. Brady for a math teacher.”
As he explained to us in class in one of the precious few moments we managed to bump him slightly off topic, had Mr. Brady managed to conquer paper airplane origami at North Carolina State University, he would have pursued a degree and career as an aeronautic engineer. Unfortunately, he couldn’t get the hang of folding the paper the way this particular professor wanted it folded so he changed his major to mathematics and ended up, somehow, as a teacher. I’m not certain on the mechanism of fate, but I do know that fortuitous alignment of the stars resulted in a generation of math students at Laurens District 55 High School being blessed without measure by putting one of the most gifted instructors to every pick up a blue Marks-A-Lot overhead pen into the classroom.
Lest anyone reading this think Mr. Brady was so memorable because he was easy, happy-go-lucky, loosey-goosey, and tried being our friend, PLEASE get a grip. Mr. Brady had a dry sense of humor, genuinely enjoyed teaching, and loved three things above all else — basketball, math, and his two daughters, one of whom was my classmate.
He was friendly, but he was a teacher first. He was one of the most organized human beings I ever met — at least in the classroom. Most of all though, he was decidedly NOT an easy teacher. Earning Cs in his class was honorable, Bs were a sign of hard work, and As — well, As in Mr. Brady’s class were the Maltese Falcons of the LDHS55 math department.
What made Mr. Brady unique was his ability to teach any concept, no matter how abstract or outrageous, to anyone. I am convinced, within two semesters, he could teach a lab rat to play “Ode to Joy” on a miniature grand piano. He knew no less than five ways to do any problem. If, by chance, a brain-dead stoner in one of his classes couldn’t “get it” using one of those five ways, Mr. Brady didn’t get mad or frustrated — he made up a sixth way on the spot, just like he made up all his classroom examples — on the spot. Now, in case that doesn’t impress you, try making up a problem involving L’Hopital’s Rule on the spur of the moment to get an answer that is neat and easy to use as a teaching example.
He was amazing.
Lest anyone think Mr. Brady was one of those Ivory Tower Birds who could only teach the cream of the crop, be advised that he taught EVERYTHING in the math department. Remedial Mathematics to AP Calculus, he taught them all with the same passion and expertise. He was one of the minuscule fraction of teachers who could — and would — teach all students well and without complaint.
We spend a lifetime trying to forget some teachers. Others, we remember, but for all the wrong reasons. We recall many personalities, but precious little of the subject matter they once imparted to us. Mr. Brady wasn’t like that at all. I suppose the best way to finally impress upon you the man’s ability as an educator is to reveal that I made a 3 on the AP Calculus “AB” Exam at the end of his class. I can’t remember how many of us passed with a 3 or better, but it was a typically phenomenal ratio for his calculus classes. He taught me so well and so thoroughly that I still maintain some knowledge of calculus today — 21 years later — having never found a reason to use it.
The man was good. He was a teacher par excellance and I hope that, wherever he is today and whatever he’s doing (he’s retired, but that’s all I know), he’s reaping a generous reward for making two otherwise unbearable years a little brighter for me.
Good on ya’, Mr. Brady, wherever you are!
Love y’all and don’t remember to wash your feet.
Author’s Update September 6, 2006: When I first published this entry on my blog, I sent a copy to Mr. Brady’s daughter, Sally, to pass on to her dad since I didn’t know where he was living or any of his contact information. Sally wrote me back telling me how much she appreciated the tribute, but that she would be unable to pass it on to her father. Unbeknown to me, and to my great and lasting sorrow, Mr. Larry Brady — finest math teacher ever to pace the classroom — passed away in January of 2006 after a series of strokes. I had no idea. Resquiescat In Pace, Mr. Brady, and thank you so much.