Ray Weatherholt died the other day at the age of 80, presumably from COVID complications. I never became altogether close to Ray, but always found him to be a genial human being of superlative integrity who enjoyed fooling people with a carefully crafted gruff exterior.
As a founding faculty member from 1967 at Floyd Central High School, Ray was among the last of a dwindling cohort. I’m told that after retirement from his job, he continued teaching others in various ways, officially and unofficially. It’s the mark of an old-school educator.
Ray did me a good turn once, and I never properly thanked him for it. Allow me to explain.
I had Mr. Weatherholt for biology at the start of my sophomore year. It was a required course, and he ran it as a self-pacing class, which I found to be a very big challenge given that (a) I could be a tireless bore-ass, and (b), biology, science and mathematics interested me not a single jot. Less than zero.
Humanities and history defined me, even then.
Consequently I sat in sophomore biology and did nothing for almost the entirety of the semester’s first half. The only clear memories I have of this class are watching the turtles in the big tank next to where we sat, and the listening to the FM radio playing a steady diet of Top 40, including Ambrosia’s “Holdin’ on to Yesterday” over and over again; to be fair, there might have been a Spinners tune in there, too.
The good turn?
Ray said absolutely nothing about my non-existent work habits to me or to my mother, his fellow faculty member at FC, until the official date came to send home progress reports, at which point he tersely yet accurately savaged me by noting in a single sentence my completion of a scant week’s worth of work during the whole of the school year to date.
He was right, and it would require herculean measures for me to pass biology, entirely unacceptable for an athlete who should know better.
I was in big trouble, but also strangely appreciative.
You see, it’s awfully tough being a teacher’s kid. Her faculty friends constantly reported to her about my activities, and this was a source of consistent resentment to me as well as periodic embarrassment.
This incessant adult surveillance, while mostly well-intentioned, made rebelliousness harder than it should have been … and I was all-in for rebellion. After all, the legendary Weekly Wad had appeared earlier the same calendar year.
Ray, on the other hand, stayed quiet and allowed me all the rope I needed to hang myself — and I did exactly that.
Well played, sir.
Fortunately, everyone involved seemed to learn something from it. I learned that bad news coming all at once actually could be far worse for the serenity of my home life than the drip-drip-drip of teachers’ lounge bulletins. And, I’d have to devise coping mechanisms for getting through tasks I detested, at least sufficient to pull Cs and remain eligible to have a life.
More happily, my parents and guidance counselor conspired to a consensus, finally displaying a level of reality-based understanding that Roger had no apparent aptitude for biology, science and mathematics at the supposed higher level of overall intelligence indicated by those ridiculous standardized tests.
I was quickly yanked from Ray’s class and thrown into another self-pacing setting, this time for rudimentary students. Fine by me. I loved it. Good friends were there, and I even got a C in the end, because even I could grasp the utility of an open book test.
R.I.P., Ray Weatherholt. You were much appreciated, and you made a huge difference in countless lives, even if my revelation came for all the wrong reasons.