Many of us were stunned and shattered by the last week’s death of Dale Regan, head of school at Episcopal School of Jacksonville.
I only knew Dale through an occasional email exchange or a brief conversation on the phone with a member of her faculty or staff, most often sent our way at Dale’s suggestion. But in the days following her tragic and senseless death, the profound measure of Dale’s remarkable life and leadership has been revealed in the reflections of students, parents, trustees, colleagues, and clergy who knew her well, and in the ways that her life has been honored and celebrated.
Dale raised money and built buildings, grew the school, and did all of those “head-ly” things that are expected of today’s school leaders. But her legacy has not been measured by how much money she raised, the number of students on the school’s waitlist, or how many seniors were admitted to selective colleges. Her legacy has been measured by what she stood for: her insistence on doing what is right and not merely what is convenient, her focus on qualities of character and living a life, and her pastoral presence for students, parents, and teachers.
Dale Regan was a centered, compassionate, and committed moral leader.
As an educator and a former Episcopal school head, I know first hand how hard it is to be this kind of a leader. The present climate of high-stakes education and the ever-increasing demands of the job can easily pull leaders and their schools off course.
But not Dale.
Mark Woods, a columnist for the Florida Times-Union, recalled Dale Regan as a person who stood up and stood firm for what was right. “Through the years, I’ve heard several stories about Regan being stuck between a rock and a hard-headed adult. And in each case, the story concluded with her making a tough decision and standing firmly on the side of what she believed was right. And that’s often not as simple as it sounds.”
In preparation for the memorial and celebration of Dale’s life this past Friday, Episcopal School of Jacksonville students painted over 3,000 river rocks to be handed out to those in attendance. In her comments at the service, the Very Rev. Kate Moorehead, dean of St. John’s Episcopal Cathedral and vice-chair of the Episcopal School board, explained the meaning of the river stones, captured here by Episcopal News Service:
“Regan kept a basket of such stones with words such as ‘courage,’ ‘hope’ and ‘wisdom’ written on them in her office, Moorehead explained during her sermon. When someone ‘was going through a difficult time or had to make a difficult decision, Dale would offer them the basket and suggest that they take a stone to carry with them. She suggested that the person could return the stone when they no longer needed it.’”
Rushton Callaghan, a member of the alumni board and parent of an Episcopal student, commented to the Florida Times-Union, “In life we may stumble along, and we need to take things slow and steady to achieve our goals. That’s what she’d say,” Callaghan said. “That was her main goal, to bring out the best in people.”
Alumna Elizabeth Bell Canon called Regan “the person who saw more in me than I saw in myself…Thank you, Mrs. Regan. I promise that I will spend the rest of my professional life trying to live up to the example you set for me when I was a 17 year old girl.”
Barbara Hodges, former Episcopal school head and now executive director of the Florida Council of Independent Schools of which Dale Regan was Board President, wrote: “I know what Dale would have done if she were in our position. She would have done what she always did; she would have reached out to comfort, to support, to lift up, and to unify the community. Dale was not only an exceptional educator and a courageous leader, but she also had a unique talent for connecting with others and meeting people where they were.”
“Dale lives on in each one of you,” noted Dean Moorehead. Perhaps she can also live on in those of us who are school leaders. Perhaps her life can help us to live out a model of care, compassion, and moral courage in our own schools: to help us be strong when it seems too hard to do the right thing, to remind us to care when it feels like we do not have the time, and to show us how to create communities where each person counts.
Dale Regan is the kind of leader that our schools, and our students, need us to be. Now more than ever.
I gratefully acknowledge the reporting of the Florida Times-Union, Episcopal News Service, and the Episcopal Church Office of Public Affairs.
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