This afternoon I joined Ted and Sarah Naff at the memorial service for Perry Lorenzo. Perry – “Mr. Lorenzo” to me – was a teacher of mine at Kennedy High School during my junior and senior years. He lost a years-long battle with cancer last week. He was 51.
Recalling twenty years of education that took me from West Seattle Pre-School to Georgetown Law, Mr. Lorenzo was the best and most influential teacher I ever had.
Perry Lorenzo, as I remember him.
And it wasn’t close.
I can’t sit here twenty-some years later and articulate exactly why that was. But I can say Mr. Lorenzo was a guy who stuck with me. I was a wanna-be intellectual in a school of jocks – he was the real deal, a true renaissance man. To quote a poster on the Seattle Opera blog, “Perry was erudite without being stuffy, polished without a trace of snobbery, and opinionated without making one holding an opposite opinion feel defensive or lacking. Like no-one (sic) else I can think of, he exemplified the time-honored phrase ‘a gentleman and a scholar.'” (I was voted Most Intellectual my senior year largely, I think, because my classmates knew I was one of his followers – and because teachers weren’t eligible.) His knowledge of the arts, literature and Catholicism was encyclopedic even then – and the guy was in his twenties. (A look at his blog suggests that knowledge and passion never waned.) He taught Debate and Great Ideas, among other subjects of arts and rhetoric. My great idea was to not debate against him — a loss was certain.
More memorable than what Mr. Lorenzo taught was how he taught it. My meager words cannot do his charisma justice. His passion for his subjects was unlike anything I had seen before, have seen since, or expect to see again. He just had It — and he oozed it. Had he not had such a love of sharing and teaching he could have pursued a career on stage. If modern American teachers brought even a modicum of the passion and energy to their jobs that Mr. Lorenzo brought to his, our education system would not only not be blighted. It would be the envy of the modern world.
Mr. Lorenzo influenced his students in life-changing and profound ways. He steered Ted toward a Catholic college education, where Ted met his wife Sarah. (They remain deeply in the Catholic faith.) It is because of him that Norman Cheuk went to Whitman and not the University of Washingon, my alma mater. David Legge, two years behind me at JFK, became a priest after attending Claremont McKenna and Yale Law – largely, I hear, because of Perry’s influence. And these are just guys I know.
In later years.
Mr. Lorenzo’s influence on me was more subtle but no less enduring. He steered me to modern, intellectual conservatism. Mr. Lorenzo taught me to think about why I thought what I thought – ultimately, in a world of sheeple, more important than the what. He introduced me to George Will, William F. Buckley and the latter’s National Review. His stiff-lipped impressions of Mr. Buckley I recall today with a fond chuckle, and I read National Review to this day. Mr. Lorenzo once told me – in front of my classmates, mind you – that I had a crooked way about me. That is, when I stood or sat my shoulders seemed to be going one way, my lower body another. He said I was like James Dean that way. Not sure if this was a compliment or insult, but I’ve thought about it often as I seek a reason why I can’t hit a golf ball straight to save my life.
I regret I lost touch with Mr. Lorenzo over the years although, given the number of people at St. James Cathedral today (600+), I don’t think he suffered for want of relationships. I can count on one hand the times I saw him since my high school days. The last time was probably ten years ago at a Seattle dinner club. He was there to give a talk about the Seattle Opera, where he spent the last several years of his life and, from what I gather, may very well have owned the place. Frankly I don’t remember what he said because I was so enamored with how he was saying it. Mesmorizing.
Mr. Lorenzo left this world way too soon, but it was clear even a decade on that he was spending his life doing what he loved.
We should all be so lucky.
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