Councillors mourn educators Kimbrough, Stead, but one has a lesson for them
City councillors eulogized two men during their Monday meeting, saddened that Cambridge saw the death of two great, black educators on the same day — but while their mourning for Leslie Kimbrough was certainly appropriate, Charles Stead is alive.
On Tuesday he was moved from an intensive care unit to a recovery room at Massachusetts General Hospital, as confirmed that day by camping friend Phyllis Murray from his bedside. She was amused, but not surprised, to hear Stead — former principal of the King School and recently a candidate for School Committee — had been reported dead.
“That kind of was right, and then he got better,” Murray said. “He’s called our little miracle man, how do you like that one?”
After a heart attack, Stead, 72, got open heart surgery and “went out” during it, but was resuscitated. He went into recovery and three days ago “he pulled his tubes out,” said Murray, who reported him as smiling, alert and sitting up and down. “He’s a fighter and he made it,” she said.
Stead, whom Murray said still needed prayers but not a flood of visitors, would no doubt be amused and touched to hear what was said of him Monday, including Denise Simmons’ description of him as a city griot and a “wise old coot” that “although he ran his school with very firm hand, he was very well respected.”
Councillor Ken Reeves said he knew Cambridge’s young considered him “old school,” but he’d learned from Stead.
Councillors’ remembrances of Kimbrough, 64, were just as admiring, and it was Mayor Henrietta Davis who recalled it was Stead, a Cambridge native, who decades ago helped recruit Kimbrough to teach in Cambridge. He and other black educators took a bus trip, picking up Kimbrough in North Carolina along with others from the region and convincing them to try living and working in Cambridge. “They took a chance on the weather and the people, and some of them stayed,” Davis said.
Reeves, while under the impression both men had died, said, “One was an adopted son, the other a native son, but both were full-fledged Cantabrigians and they gave their good work here,” noting Kimbrough’s work at the city’s W.E.B. Dubois Academy and post-retirement work with new teachers at the University of Massachusetts at Boston. Simmons was also struck by Kimbrough’s unflagging energy even after retiring from Cambridge Rindge & Latin School, and how she could find him at student soccer and basketball games, often with the cameras with which he documented decades of Cambridge life and youth.
But while Simmons recalled Kimbrough as having a powerful effect on two generations of her family — her son and grandchild — for councillor Marjorie Decker the memories were even more personal. As a student at the high school, she was mentored by Kimbrough in what was then the school’s Student Service Center, where youth were invited to stop by informally and check in with Kimbrough. In this way, “he has helped save the lives of students who were so on the margin, on the edge — and most of these students weren’t his students,” she said.
One of his gifts was his “ability to connect with students in a very kind and thoughtful and important way so you just knew you were capable of so much, because you could see it in his eyes — you could see his pride in you and his belief in you,” Decker said. “He could look in your eyes … and just by knowing him and talking with him you just knew you were something to be proud of.”
“It’s a tremendous loss for his family and for this community,” Decker said. “Thousands are praying and in tears.”