The teacher who was the lesson

Patsy Lundblad made an unforgettable impression on students, parents and her fellow educators because we best remember those who change us for the better. None of my teachers loved students more maternally — and none resembled my mother more than she. Both were close to 50, still stunningly attractive, slender, with chiseled faces and jet-black hair streaked with grey. They always dressed fashionably, wore red lipstick and spoke well — Mrs. Lundblad, with the most mellifluous Southern accent I’ve ever heard.

She was everything I wanted and needed in a teacher when I entered the womb of her 5th grade classroom at Wilder Elementary six months after my father died from a heart attack. She, too, knew the heartbreak of premature tragedy, having survived one of her two sons.

We bonded immediately.

Her singular catch-phrase was “charming and delightful.” It’s what she expected us to be most of the time. And it was a fair expectation because nobody personified charming and delightful better than she. Expectations were necessarily astronomical. We were in the Advance Program at a time when parents knew teachers through active PTAs and, even better, as volunteer room mothers. Richard VanHoose, superintendent of the county school system, favored men as administrators and football coaches as principals. In that context, Hattie Glenn, the head of the Advance Program; and Joan Shepler, Wilder’s principal, were tough women who ran tight ships. They had to be.

Patsy Lundblad merely had to be herself — a magnolia who rarely had to reveal her steel because love is stronger — more powerful and controlling — than fear. For the most part, her eye contact embraced us with gladness. When her furrowed brow squeezed us with sadness, it couldn’t have stung worse than a spanking. She made us crave approval, acceptance, admiration and affection. Her disappointment made us scramble, frantically, to redeem ourselves.

As far as I knew, corporal punishment was out of the question. We learned not to publicly shame one another because she was so careful not to embarrass us. Even when perhaps we deserved a healthy dose of humiliation, she would admonish us in the hallway. Like good medicine, it was always the lowest dose to achieve the desired effect.

Whenever I was less than charming and delightful, she would sugar-coat her criticism with a compliment, “You’re too gentlemanly (or kind or smart or mature) to carry on in such a fashion.” And then she’d plumb the depth: “What’s really bothering you?” More often than not, I’d unload all my freight. We could tell her everything because we trusted her to care — and make it better.

As part of our Anne Frank unit, we were required to keep a diary. While my modest classmates peddled pablum, I revealed more than less about my inner life — which forevermore made me more introspective.

There was nothing she couldn’t fix. The day my kite took a nosedive and crashed, I cried, “I killed my own kite!” She took a hard look at its fractured axis and assured me, “Not to worry; we can repair it. Your kite will live to fly another day, sweetie. In the meantime, use mine and we’ll fix yours later.” She glued the broken stick and reinforced its four sides with toothpicks.

We thought she was a goddess.

Even while she read aloud “Rifles for Watie,” she saw everything. Long before attention deficits were diagnosed or treated, she recognized and predominantly tolerated them. Despite the awkward moments that pervade every elementary school classroom daily, she always responded graciously. She taught us, by example, that you can find the right words to say anything.

A field trip to WKPC, the TV station then owned by JCPS, changed my life. Our class appeared on an arts & crafts program hosted by John Dillehay. He made me the star interviewee — and an aspiring journalist.

My most distinguished classmates include Phil Marshall, the CEO of Hosparus; and Todd Leatherman and Susan Roncarti, both longtime lawyers for Kentucky’s Office of Attorney General.

On the last day of school, I realized how much Mrs. Lundblad loved us when she sobbed and hugged us as she surrendered us to the world.

She passed away peacefully Jan. 23 at 93.

The last time I saw her was about a decade ago, at her husband’s funeral. She told me how charming and delightful I was to come and asked me about my classmates — by name.