During these tangled and spangled times, in this season of bloodshed in Baltimore, when the murders continue unabated (the other night, my house, 8:23pm, windows open, the pop-pop-pop, pop-pop-pop, pop-pop-pop of gunfire, the silence thereafter, the sirens, the helicopter hovering, the ambulance running, the man inside soon to die), during this month when we are called to honor principals around our city and country, I salute Lou Beard, the principal of my father's school, Francis Scott Key High School, located in Union Bridge, MD, a town so small when I was a boy that the little store in the middle of it couldn't have sold more than Wonder Bread and a few cups of coffee.
Lou Beard was no small man. My memories of him are selective, as memories not overlaid with trauma or celebration are wont to be. I remember him as being much taller than my father, who was taller than I was. The exact feet and inches remain unclear.
There were many things about Lou Beard that I didn't know. One time, on a splendid Saturday afternoon, my dad's football team was playing a school from Howard County, which in those days was about two hours away, it seemed like, all those Carroll County back roads and hills leading off into farm land, distorting time, place, and distance.
A few minutes before the game started the team from Howard County was nowhere to be found. We thought they were lost. Then, just before the start of the National Anthem, the Glenelg Gladiators rose up out of the nearby cornfields, spooked the crowd, and presented themselves, rowdy and undisciplined, as ready for battle.
The ploy was meant to impress fear upon the competition. My memory reminds me that it didn't work very well, as my dad's team crushed the Gladiators, sending them back into the corn, husky and humiliated, though not without a game-ending fight filled with flying helmets and scrambled bodies.
Lou Beard was at the game that day. He was at all the games. Recall as I might, I never knew how he got there. He just sort of rose up out of the cornfields. There he was, though not a gladiator in the violent sense. Lou Beard was a peaceful man, a beautiful man. My dad's hero. And mine too.
Lou Beard died a few years back. Mr. Beard was a lot of things, none more impressive than being the first, and until just recently, the only African American principal of an integrated school in Carroll County. The gymnasium at Francis Scott Key was recently named after him. A descendant of slaves, Lou Beard found refuge from our Anthem's lesser known verses, from the terror of flight and the gloom of the grave, to become a towering principal, an inspiring leader— for the times of my childhood, for these times of turmoil and strife, for all times.
Lou Beard, in this month when we are to honor principals, I honor you.