The first time I heard her voice was a robocall message left on my answering machine. “This is Pat Rusk, president of the Utah Education
Asso ciation urging you to contact your state legislature and tell them to stop siphoning public education funds to private for-profit entities and oppose vouchers!”
The last time I spoke with her, we held each other close on her hospital bed near the window and through tears, she apologized for not doing more. “Oh, shut up” were my last words to my dear friend and mentor. Pat Rusk joined the picket line in heaven on March 22.
I am not alone in laying claim to Pat as one of my biggest cheerleaders and all-time champions in my life. Like all great teachers, her greatest gift was seeing something in me that I couldn’t see myself. My Diet Coke almost came out my nose when 12 years ago Pat grabbed my shoulders, looked me square in the eyes and said, “YOU, my dear, are going to be a great UEA president.” As if. With varying definitions of ‘great’…fast forward more than a decade and here I am.
A few weeks before Christmas in 2019, she sent me an urgent text to send her pictures that gave me joy. Cancer was back and I was worried, so I quickly sent her images from my phone of her kayaking in Mexico with dolphins, of my family, rallies, Pat’s husband Rich’s enormous smile, and a few inappropriate memes. What I thought was her needing joy was in fact her giving me my very own ‘f-it bucket’ – a large popcorn bucket covered in these images with words on the inside “if it doesn’t give you joy like the images here, toss it in the ‘f-it bucket.’ I will treasure this forever.
On a recent social media post Spencer Terry (former Executive Director of the Inclusion Center for Community and Justice) shared this about having the opportunity to work with the ‘giant’ who was Pat Rusk:
“Then, without noticing, after decades of working by her side, I was on to her…All along, it wasn’t about HER being the giant, it was about me finding the strength, pushing through the growing pains, and making my own impact as my own evolving giant. In turn, she was training her army of giants for the next wave in battling for humanity, pushing boundaries, demanding the best for everyone, encouraging education, embracing love and compassion, and above all, making the world a better place than we found it.” (Shared with loving permission.)
Spencer was right, we were on to you, Pat. You’ve been teaching us for years, handing out assignments and expecting our best work. Your belief in us – in our responsibility to kids and our profession and in our ability to fight injustice – will power us through mourning this enormous hole that you have left in our hearts.
For a lifetime of leadership, service and downright love and joy – for training an army of evolving giants – my friend Pat Rusk, your life, your legend is the textbook definition of A+.