When Leonard Nimoy died on February 27, the obituaries quite naturally focused on his dramatic achievements over the years. Less well known was his passionate support of public schools and teachers. I know because I participated in several fundraisers at his home near UCLA in the 1970s.
Perhaps because Nimoy was a product of Boston public schools or because he believed in the importance of a quality education for all students in a democratic society, he made himself readily available. To raise money to send a group of seniors from the high school where I taught to Sacramento to meet then Gov. Ronald Reagan, about 70 parents and their children were invited to a dinner at his home.
Students were fortunate because in those days the Los Angeles Unified School District took great pains to encourage teachers to develop innovative programs. That’s why my colleague and I were able to do what we did. The district’s obsession with standardized test scores today would make that impossible.
What I remember most about that evening was the way Nimoy deliberately kept in the shadows while everyone else was joyously mingling. When I asked him to join in, he told me that the teachers were the ones who deserved the spotlight. True to his word, he refused to do anything more than to welcome everyone as old friends and then direct attention to the teachers who were present.
In subsequent events at his home, he invariably inquired about the students. Had they changed? If so, how? Why? How were teachers dealing with the changes? Talking with him seemed altogether natural. I never felt as if I were in the presence of an entertainment icon.
At their 40th-year class reunion, students told me that meeting with Gov. Reagan was the highlight of their senior year. They vividly remember after so many years details that I had forgotten. All I could think of was that it was due to Nimoy’s support.
If Nimoy were alive, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if he became a powerful voice for teachers at a time when morale is at an all-time low. Long before the attacks on public schools began, he made it clear by his deeds that they deserved greater support and that teachers were not appreciated for the work they do.
Now his son Adam, who was my former student, is making a documentary called “For The Love of Spock” to commemorate the 50th anniversary next year of the Star Trek series. (I made a financial contribution to production of the documentary.) I recently spoke to him about the project. He told me that it will be more than a love letter by showing both the depth and width of his father’s great interests in life, including art photography, poetry and the Shoah.
I hope he’ll devote a portion of the documentary to the high regard that Nimoy had for public schools and teachers. I think he would be proud of that because when he died the family asked that donations be made in his name to the Everychild Foundation, along with other charities.
The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner’s Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.