My friend Brian Dassler never missed an opportunity to send a heartfelt, handwritten note. He treated his correspondence as a disciplined practice; a way to provide feedback, congratulations, condolences, or inspiration.
I know I am not the only one who is reminiscing about Brian today. It is hard to believe March 20 marks five years since he’s been gone. Brian had many memorable lines, but one of my favorites he said often was that if he was going to go down for something, he was going to go down swinging for kids. I think I speak for many when I say he was true to his word. Brian inspired many of us, and his sudden absence grew us up fast into leaders eager to keep his legacy and spirit of collaboration alive.
I recently moved homes, and while unpacking my books one of his notes, forgotten, fell out and fluttered to the floor. I sat down with it and clutched it to my chest as the tears came. It was like hearing from him again, unexpected words, so rare now. Will I always be so keen to hear his perspective and feel his favor? I hope so.
Brian pushed me in so many ways that made me who I am today; and Impact Florida would perhaps not exist at all, or perhaps not be what it is without the contribution of his initial visioning and collaboration. Sometimes I look back and wonder how Brian did it all. He was a seemingly superhuman educational expert, leader, relentless learner, and again, he never failed to make and keep relationships at the heart of all he did.
Recently, I realized wistfully that with the passage of time I was reducing him to only this professional figure who had sometimes made me squirm with his earnest feedback and who always inquired if I had read this or that new book yet (which, of course, I had not; nobody beat Brian to a new education book). I realized I was losing my friend Brian all over again; projecting onto his memory my professional insecurities and worrying what he’d have done instead, what impression he’d have of my work, what feedback he’d be giving.
So now I am consciously working to also remember my friend Brian, who would sit on my couch to watch the Tony Awards, lose his keys, or share stories like the time he walked out of Publix with his basket of groceries, thinking how rude it was they didn’t bag them for him before he realized he had walked out without even checking out. Oh Brian, you were the best of all worlds.
So today I write a note to you. It is not handwritten nor mailed. But I hope it reaches you where you are. Thank you for your friendship, for your mentorship, for the guidance you still provide to me, and so many others who loved you too, through the legacy you left. Your words and actions did change the world. Every day, and especially today, we will cherish the memories you left us with, work to keep your memory alive, and never stop swinging for kids.