I met Nancy McLeod when I took my first child to Lee-Scott Academy, a K-12 school we would come to call home. Nancy, the elementary school principal, was kind and helpful; just the type of person I wanted my children to see each day.
In a few years we became much more connected at Lee-Scott. A second child entered, then I took on an administrative role as director of development for the school. Nancy and I became friends during this time; we talked to each other daily I’m sure.
Then, she taught me something about faith. Something she probably never knew.
My third child was now in kindergarten and each morning before heading to my office, I walked my littlest to her classroom.
Every day, as other children scurried past us (no running of course, but Nancy allowed limited scurrying) to their classrooms, Lexie and I would walk together, holding hands.
I had just become a single father. The mother of my three children found other interests; I wasn’t one of them. So it was me and three.
Lexie, being the youngest, seemed most vulnerable. So, I stuck close to her as she began her day. Every day.
It was the right thing to do, wasn’t it? This young girl had to know dad would be there for her. While other children were fine waving to their parents and hustling to their rooms unaided, my child was different, I was sure.
Each day then, Lexie and I made our walk. I’d smile, give her a hug and send her inside.
Until one day, Nancy met me in the hallway. “You know Kirk,” she told me with a smile and a pat on the back, “I think Lexie can do this on her own now.”
There was no condemnation. No accusation that I was becoming a “helicopter parent” who would always hover over his child. Just a kind word and a suggestion.
For me, letting go of Lexie so far from her classroom was a step of faith. There was no concern that she was unsafe, no concern of her not finding her way. Instead, I believed she needed that something more, even if others did not.
But Nancy wanted me to take this step and trust God. If I did, Lexie would grow to be more confident, more assured. She would be just like the rest of her class, and thrive while doing so.
Deep down, I knew Nancy was right. There was no reason to become a hovering parent.
The next day then–though I worried there would be tears–I dropped Lexie at the door; outside of the building. Amazingly, she smiled, said goodbye and scurried off. Just like her classmates. To the best of my knowledge, she made it to her room unscathed.
Nancy and I would have plenty of talks about my children, about her husband Bill (who passed away last year), her family and grandchildren, and more. Over the six years I served the school, we came to find out a lot about each other. She knew things about me others never knew; and she told me things she wanted me to keep close. I did.
After moving away, I’d go back to the school from time to time and often Nancy and I had a chance to visit. We would catch up without skipping a beat. That’s how she was.
Nancy passed away this week. Her family and so many others will celebrate her life, as they should. It was a great life, and she influenced more people than she ever could imagine.
The little girl who finally went to class on her own is now 23. After high school she took a year away from academics to nanny a baby, then started school at Western Kentucky where her GPA was a stellar 4.0. She drove herself to school without my help, 50 miles a day, each way.
The next year she transferred to Vanderbilt, one of America’s most prestigious universities.
Though she was so influenced by “Mrs. McLeod,” the four-year-old who cried on her first day of class won’t be able to make the celebration of Nancy’s life at a church we all attended. No, because that day will be Lexie’s last of student teaching a class of . . . kindergarten students.
I can’t think of anything more appropriate.
Lexie will go on to teach third graders later this semester; in May she earns her degree in Elementary Education.
She’s done this on her own, thanks to an elementary principal who told her dad, “She’s ready.”
For me, it was a step of faith. Today, I get to watch the little four-year-old take her own steps of faith. And I have Nancy McLeod to thank.