I learned Thursday that my favorite teacher from high school died recently. A friend from back then messaged me on Facebook, but he didn’t share any details about what happened or what our former teacher’s life had been like since we last saw him in 1980.
I found an online obituary in The Denver Post. Esophageal cancer, diagnosed a year ago, killed Pete Mindock on Oct. 14. He was 64 and left a wife and two adult children. His memorial service will be Friday in Denver.
Pete Mindock changed my life. He was the journalism instructor at Gateway High School in Aurora, Colo., a suburb of Denver, in the late ‘70s when I was a teen-ager. He was also a real-live sportswriter at The Denver Post. And he might’ve been the first adult who ever told me, and showed me, that I was good at something.
He led the kids in producing an award-winning school newspaper. When I joined the staff as a sophomore, the editor was a senior who grew up to become a Washington Post and Time magazine reporter. I met my best friend there, and he went on to lead digital communications at PBS. It was with them all that I started to form my identity as a reporter and writer.
I remember Mindock as what they used to call a “man’s man,” naturally masculine and not sentimental, but playful and a tad vain. When you earned a compliment, it meant something. When you let him down, that did, too. He called me “Jaybird” sometimes. We called him “Smindo,” his log-on at The Post, until he made us cut it out.
Mindock taught me to value the precision of language, the responsibility of the media and what my role in the world could be as a storyteller.
He hated clichés. So I shouldn’t say that he and the Medallion gang opened a whole world to me. But they did.
They gave me an idea of what I wanted to be and how to become it.
Mindock left the school the summer before my senior year. I don’t think I ever saw him again. His obit informed me he had become a successful financial adviser for more than three decades, a lifetime beyond teaching and reporting.
I hope this is not a sentimental piece. But I sobbed in my office when I heard Pete Mindock had died.
I pulled out the yearbooks Thursday night and found what he’d scribbled to me, 35 years ago at the end of my 10th grade year. He ended it with this:
“Seriously, Jay, good luck and remember. Short sentences, short paragraphs and be honest. – Pete Mindock, ‘79”
It’s still good advice.
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