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First Words

First Words Summer 2018

How do you know when it’s time to retire?

I’ve seen a few signposts over the years pointing me in this direction, which is why I stepped down June 30 as director of communications.

Given my love for this magazine, though, I will continue as its editor for the foreseeable future working from home on a contract basis. Those who know me well understand that a life of leisure on a golf course isn’t something that would make me happy. I think I’m at least one-third Energizer Bunny.

By the way, I suspect you’ll see in my replacement — Tom Murphy (Brophy ’81) — a remarkable person, gifted in the ways of marketing and branding and rich in experience. His time at Apple is the tip of the iceberg of his years helping tell stories and hone brands. 

But I know what you’re all wondering: You look so young, handsome and vigorous, in the prime of your youth — why ever would you want to retire?

First, thanks for the compliments. After 33 years, it’s just time to move on. While I’ll continue writing for and editing this magazine, I plan to pursue other dreams, like writing a few more books, traveling with Kathy, cooking and gardening.

There have also been signs that it’s time.

For example, last June, I attended a graduation party for the child of one of my former students — Helmut Schmidt ’88. His daughter Gabby ’18 was a remarkable leader at SI — one of the organizers of the student walk out to end gun violence — and she follows in the footsteps of her wonderful parents. Seeing the generations tick by reminded me that I’m making the right call.

I also saw the writing in the sky — more specifically, on the sides of buildings. If I’m going to go out on a high note, why not leave the year that Mayor Mark Farrell ’92 chose to paint City Hall, Coit Tower and SFO in our school colors? After leaving Gabby’s party, my wife and I drove throughout the city and down to San Bruno to record this celebration of light and of school spirit.

I’m also making more mistakes than in the past, both because I work too quickly and my mind is more mushy than it once was. For example, I killed off poor Anthony Friscia ’59 in the spring Genesis by listing him in the In Memoriam section after misreading an email sent by one of his classmates. Sigh. Thankfully, Anthony is alive and well and resurrected in this issue.

Still, mistakes sting and last a long time. I was reminded of this when my wife and I toured Petroglyph National Monument outside of Albuquerque, where we saw scrapings in the stones that date back millennia and that have survived the harsh desert clime. I hate to think of my mistakes lasting just as long, but they very well might thanks to the eternal sunshine of the spotty Internet.

I’m also leaving with two wonderful colleagues — Assistant Principal Robert Gavin and religious studies teacher Mary Ahlbach. I have worked closely with each of these great educators for years. I taught with Bobby in the English Department and saw him grow into a masterful teacher and, later, a gifted administrator. I helped Mary in her spiritual exercises class and wrote about the profound ways she sought to help students turn their faith into actions that would help and heal.

The last sign is this: I am so impressed by my colleagues, many of whom are young and new to SI. They help me be certain that the school will continue to thrive in the years to come. They are gifted teachers, coaches and counselors (including my own daughter, Lauren ’07).

So … thanks for putting up with me all these years. While you’re stuck with me for a little longer with this magazine, I’ll be scarce around campus. That’s the hardest part, as it has been the students who have given me the most joy over the years. They just can’t keep their bright lights from shining.

— Paul Totah ’75

Posted by Mr. Paul J. Totah on Monday July 2
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