Every once in a while, I think back on my growing-up years out in Odessa and recall teachers, coaches and others who had a positive influence in my life, and I wonder what happened to them. 

One of those special people was Mr. Dial, my first-ever PE teacher at Austin Elementary School back in 1959. 

Besides my dad and grandfather, he was one of the first male authoritarian figures I can remember. A gentle, soft-spoken, caring man, I always liked Mr. Dial.  Little did I know at the time, besides coaching and driving the school bus, he was giving free haircuts in the school gym for boys who couldn’t afford them, and collecting clothes for kids who had the need.   

A few years later at Crockett Junior High, Mr. Dial was my 8th grade history teacher, when the news broke in his class that President Kennedy had been assassinated. 

I vaguely remember him asking us to do something patriotic like write a one-page essay on “why we love our country.”  

That seemed to be the perfect antidote for our collective hurting souls on that dark Friday afternoon.   

In his class we studied many things about our country. I specifically remember learning about the American Civil War (which interestingly enough had been taking place 100 years previous to that very time). He asked us to read, study and determine for ourselves which side we felt was in the right --- the Union or the Confederacy.  

Of course, being a Southerner and Texan and hearing of distant relatives who fought for the South, there was no doubt in my mind whom I’d choose. 

Then Mr. Dial challenged us to explore the issues on a deeper level and be able to argue in support of the opposing view as well. I’d never thought of things that way before.  

Though I did not understand it at the time, he was teaching me a new perspective on how we should address conflict and problems we have with adversaries and those with different points of view. 

He helped me see that complex issues are rarely black and white, but involve prejudices, personal values, experience, upbringing, understanding of history and spiritual insight or lack thereof. And that solutions to these deep divisive problems should incorporate honest discussion, introspection, empathy,  a willing admittance of wrongful pride, and a willingness to listen, compromise, and cooperate, something many of today’s governmental leaders and political activists seem to have forgotten.

Later, Mr. Dial moved on up to become a high school counselor and advisor, helping guide young people in some of life’s bigger decisions.  He eventually became a director and administrator with the Ector County School District for decades.  

Through a mutual friend out in West Texas, I recently found out that Mr. Dial celebrated his 88th birthday. He doesn’t get around much anymore. He may have forgotten or not realized all the good things he did for so many young people over the years, but to those of us privileged to have known him, we have not forgotten. I’d like to thank, Mr. Dial for all his kindness, sacrifice, selflessness and giving to me and countless others during our formative years way back when --- a great  example of what one of the good guys is really like. 

Our world is a better place because of you, Mr. Keith Dial. Your influence is still felt today. May God bless you, my friend.

Charlie Norman has lived in Somervell County since 1994. He and his wife have two adult children, who graduated from Glen Rose schools. You can contact him at chas234@windstream.net.