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Reflections From Faith and History

Remembering Mr. Carmack -by Jeff Olson

Each year at about this time teachers throughout America have been preparing for a new school year, working behind the scenes in ways unknown to most of us. I believe good teachers approach the new year not just as a job to teach a subject but as educators with a desire to help develop both the moral and intellectual dimensions of their students. Every one of us can remember those teachers who had the most positive and lasting impact on our lives. I certainly can, so please indulge me as I tell you something about one of them, Mr. Billy Carmack (1925-1989).

Though I was blessed with a number of good teachers during my school years, Mr. Carmack stood head and shoulders above most of the others. He taught American History at our high school. Though slight in physical stature, he was larger than life in the classroom. His great reputation among both school faculty and students preceded him, so I was one of many who looked forward to his class. Even some of those students who didn’t particularly care for history liked Mr. Carmack’s class and held him in high esteem. By the time I made it to his class, he had been teaching history for many years and knew his subject matter by memory and by heart, and I do mean by heart! He put his heart and soul and every ounce of his being into teaching us the roots of our national origin and identity, those personal virtues and collective values and principles which have made America unique, exceptional, and enduring, and even how and where we failed along the way. Indeed, American history came alive in Mr. Carmack’s classroom.

However, he considered teaching to be much more than just about American History. It was also about serving as a mentor and role model. He valued each and every one of his students, and we knew it. He exemplified character and integrity which he sought to instill into us – that we would grow into men and women who would be the informed and responsible citizens that America would need to continue her journey as that successful experiment in ordered liberty which our Founders set in motion. Not surprisingly, he was voted “Teacher of the Year” at our school more than once during his career there. He believed, in the words of one educator, “Teach them [children] everything that is best in life – teach them all the good things our country has done –and you will find we shall get a very much better education.”   

In retrospect, Mr. Carmack was not only my choice for Teacher of the Year in 1973, but is also my choice for Teacher of a Lifetime in 2019. He was a special man in so many ways, and this was no less true within and among his family and friends. We witnessed his faith and resilience during the loss of his only child in her teen years. He himself passed away too young, but left an enduring legacy beyond what I’ve been able to adequately describe here. In closing, what I can and must say is this: Thank you Mr. Carmack – for your example and inspiration and for the honor I have in being a part of your legacy, as I’ve joined many others (albeit in a small way) in the important and consequential stewardship of America’s history.

Many of you could probably share a similar story from your own experiences in school. May what I’ve shared here about Mr. Carmack help to revive such memories for you and serve as a tribute to all the great educators who enlightened, inspired and cared for us. And, may it also remind each of us to support and pray for those teachers who will be pouring themselves into the generations of today and tomorrow. Our culture, our nation need them more than ever in 2019 and beyond!

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