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PYRYT, Michael Christopher 1953-2008.
Michael passed away Tuesday morning (January 15, 2008) at the Foothills Hospital upon his return from a trip to Australia. His parents, Edward Joseph and Frances Mary Ellen (née Loughran) Pyryt pre-deceased him. He is survived by his wife of 18 years, Leta Gonzalez-Pyryt, his daughter Tara and her husband Chris Gales, his grand-daughter Brooke, and his sister Dorothy, as well as many family members in New Jersey. Born on June 26, 1953 in Passiac, New Jersey, Michael obtained a B.A. in Psychology in 1975 and a Ed.M. in Gifted Education in 1976 from The Johns Hopkins University. He completed his doctorate in Educational Psychology in 1984 at the University of Kansas. His subsequent distinguished professional academic career focused on gifted education. He was a tenured assistant professor at the West Virginia College of Graduate Studies, a tenured assistant professor in the Department of Educational Psychology at the University of Calgary, and from 1995 an associate professor in the Division of Applied Psychology, Faculty of Education, at the University of Calgary.
In 2000 he became the Director of the Centre for Gifted Education at the University and was responsible for expanding the profile of gifted education and promoting the education of gifted children locally, provincially, nationally and internationally. He published extensively in his field, held numerous professional memberships, and was involved in innumerable research projects. A devout Catholic, Michael was a former runner and in addition a life-long fan of the Johns Hopkins Blue Jays lacrosse team, the University of Kansas Jayhawks and Notre Dame Fighting Irish football teams. Michael loved the many dogs and cats he had over the years and his signature slide at the end of presentations pictured his dog, Fufu, and read "My goal in life is to be a person as good as my dog already thinks I am". He was that and more, and he will be dearly missed by family, friends, colleagues and students.
Special thanks to the staff at Foothills Hospital, especially the doctors and nurses in the Emergency Department and the ICU. A viewing with prayers will be held at 7:00 p.m. on Friday, January 18th, at St. Pius X Catholic Church (2424 - 24 Avenue NW, Calgary).
The funeral will also be held at St. Pius X Catholic Church at 1:00 p.m. on Saturday, January 19th. A reception to celebrate Michael's life will follow at the Centre for Gifted Education (Room 602, Education Tower, University of Calgary).
In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the "Dr. Michael C. Pyryt Memorial Fund - Centre for Gifted Education" (to The Development Office, c/o Kathy Bhana, 6th Floor Craigie Hall, University of Calgary, 2500 University Dr. NW, Calgary, AB T2N 1N4).
Dr. Michael Pyryt, Director of the Center for Gifted Education at the University of Calgary, a board member of our SIG.
By Jane Piirto
Dr. Michael Pyryt grew up in Garfield, New Jersey, a working class town about 15 miles from New York City. Most people in his town were Polish or Italian. He is Polish on his father's side and Irish and French/German on his mother's side.
He went to St. Stanislaus Kostka Elementary School (K-8). Most kids were Polish and Polish was taught as a graded subject. The school occupied the 2nd and 3rd floors of a building. (The church was on the first floor and the Parish Hall was in the basement). There was one class per grade—about 30-40 students. They were taught by nuns. Pyryt said, “School was pretty easy; I was pretty conforming, so I wasn't bothered by the lack of challenge. I was fortunate to be an altar boy in Grades 5-8. Besides getting to carry the incense, I missed a lot of class going to meetings, rehearsals, services, and house blessings.” He also loved watching sports and played midget league football. He went to Don Bosco Preparatory High School, an all-boys Catholic School. Although only a 20-minute automobile ride from where he lived, it was a 75-minute bus ride each morning and afternoon trucking through Northern New jersey picking up and dropping off students. Like most boys, he was encouraged to become a priest. Pyryt said, “I seriously thought about it between 12 and 16. Basically, I became disillusioned in high school. He said, “The priests that I was exposed to were very dogmatic and focused on guilt rather than growth. They all went to the same schools. The Diocesan priests went to the same seminary.”
He was good at school. “For the most part, cademics came easily. The school took a semi-homogeneous grouping approach. “I was somewhat bothered by the rigidity and lack of challenge. Still, I played the school game and graduated 3rd out of a class of 170. I was on the football team one year and have the splints to prove it.”
Then he went to Johns Hopkins in Baltimore in 1971, majoring in psychology. He quickly experienced the difference between being a big fish in a little pond and a little fish in a big pond. “I loved Hopkins. It was very challenging and stimulating. I worked my butt off as did everyone else.” The freshman class size was about 500 from all over the US and several countries. “The majority of students were from the Middle Atlantic and Northeast states. It was clear from the beginning that past laurels meant nothing. Demographics were a non-issue. The challenge for everyone was to perform up to expectations. Everyone was capable of success and had high aspirations.”
While in college, Pyryt was an active member of Sigma Nu Fraternity. “ It was a great living experience for three years. The Sigma Nu chapter at Hopkins accepted female members--which was quite radical in 1971. Our 4-story row house had 11 inhabitants, 9 males, 2 females. He was also active in the Catholic Community on campus. “It provided an opportunity to share faith and fellowship with others.” One of the features of springtime in Baltimore is Hopkins lacrosse. “Part of the Hopkins' experience is becoming passionate about lacrosse.” He attended every home lacrosse game and several on the road each year.
When asked about the classes he took and their influence on him, Pyryt was kindly optimistic. He said, “I learned something in every class. Sometimes I learned about areas that I wasn't cut-out for. In the few literature courses I took, I generally got trashed for psychoanalyzing authors rather than using text-based literary criticism.” He says he liked psychology courses the best. Among his psychology professors was William Garvey, who taught a course called "Social Psychology of Science.” This was a seminar for psych majors only). At that time, Garvey was the Chair of the Psychology Department. Garvey published several important papers on the communication process in science. He wrote about the importance of scientific conferences for networking and learning about the latest research.
“Garvey's class was important for several reasons. First, he talked about the career, lifestyle, expectations, security of tenure of academic psychologists. (I went to Hopkins thinking I would go into clinical and was exposed to the idea of being a "Psychology Professor"). Second, the class ended up doing a group research project on attitudes towards "science and technological." The class developed a survey and disseminated in convenience samples of high schools and colleges that class members had access to. Then different class members analyzed different parts of the study.
Pyryt examined the relationship between religious orientation and attitudes towards science and technology. “I was given a print-out of chi-squares which revealed nothing. On further examination, I found some interesting differences in response style. Jews and Protestants tended to be more skeptical (which is needed in Science) while Catholics tended to agree with most statements. The paper that I wrote was well-received and increased my confidence to pursue psychology and research.”
His advisor for his first two years was Mary Ainsworth, world-renowned for her work in infant attachment. He took two courses with her. She was a strong believer in longitudinal research. Although Pyryt certainly conducts one-shot studies, all his grants ask for funding to do longitudinal work. “I also learned the importance of early attachments for subsequent development, a concept I keep in mind when trying to understand individuals.”
He also enjoyed his courses in social psychology with Clinton DeSoto. He did a few independent projects focusing on eye contact. He published a paper on gender differences in the perception of the meaning of eye contact in Letters and Papers in the Social Sciences, an undergraduate peer-reviewed journal at Hopkins. Finally, in the fall of his senior year, he took Julian Stanley's Educational and Psychological Measurement in the Fall. He was exposed to tests such as the Raven's Progressive Matrices, Terman Concept Mastery Test, Allport-Vernon-Lindzey Study of Values, and Holland's Self-Directed Search. In the Spring, he took Julian's, "The Gifted Child." “This was the start of my studies in gifted education.”
Stanley’s course got him started. He did well-enough in the course to get recommended for a research assistantship with Lynn Fox, one of Julian's Stanley’s former doctoral students and a co-founder of the Study of Mathematically Precocious Youth. “Julian recommended the 3 seniors from the course. Pyryt applied and got the assistantship which also involved enrollment in the Master's program. Pyryt got a BA in psychology and stayed for an M.Ed. in gifted education.
“Clearly, the crystallizing experience was the Terman Symposium,” organized by Julian Stanley to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of the first volume of the Genetic Studies of Genius. The symposium papers were published in the book The Gifted and the Creative: A 50-Year Perspective edited by Stanley, George, and Solano. “I came away from the symposium with a clear feeling that the field of gifted education was important.” Pyryt also felt that he could make a contribution to the field given his background in psychology.
“Lynn Fox was a wonderful mentor. I had a productive year as her research assistant. It was also great to be part of a team of graduate students that included Sandy Cohn, Linda Brody, and Dianne Tobin.” His work at Hopkins resulted in presentations at APA in 1975, and NAGC in 1976 and 1977 and publications in Talents and Gifts and JEG.
Then he went to the University of Kansas for his doctorate in educational psychology and research with a focus on the gifted. “I left Hopkins to pursue studies in creativity with Don Treffinger. I learned a lot about creativity, instructional planning, self-directed learning, and the academic lifestyle from Don.” At Kansas, an individual needed both a major and a minor area of study. Pyryt’s major was Educational Psychology and Research with a focus on gifted, talented and creative learners. His minor was Speech Communications and Human Relations. His minor advisor was Paul Friedman in SCHR. He had an interest in the question of social giftedness and whether it was distinct from intellectual giftedness. “There was a group of us —Paul, Don Treffinger, Bill Bowerman (Psychology), Woodie Houseman, Jaquie Huber, and myself who met periodically to discuss the construct.” When Don left, Reva Jenkins joined the group. They did presentations at NAGC in Houston and Baltimore.
His dissertation was entitled, "Assessing Adolescent Interpersonal Communication Skills: Structural and Practical Dimensions." It started off as an examination of the construct of social intelligence. He was looking for the essence of social intelligence as defined by Thorndike (1920), "the ability to understand others and to act wisely in human relations." It turned out to be two studies in one—a measurement study and a replication and application. He found that a list of interpersonal communication skills identified by Paul Friedman in 1978 at NAGC in Houston seemed to describe the domain of social intelligence. Pyryt basically developed a self-report measure of interpersonal communication skills, determined its factor structure, collected reliability and validity information, replicated the results and examined differences by ability and gender with parental education as a covariate. SES was related to interpersonal communication skills. With SES controlled, there were gender differences but no ability differences or interactions.
Treffinger left Kansas after Pyryt’s first two years and was replaced by Reva Jenkins Friedman. (Friedman had done her doctorate with Renzulli during the development of the original Enrichment Triad Model.) Pyryt stayed at Kansas for four years, then left, ABD, to take a job training teachers of the gifted at The West Virginia College of Graduate Studies in Institute, West Virginia. Friedman facilitated the completion of his dissertation, serving as his supervisor. Treffinger was also on his dissertation committee, serving at a distance, from Buffalo.
During his time at Kansas, Pyryt was a recipient of a Graduate Leadership Education Fellowship (GLEP) for 3 years. This USOE fellowship was administered by Abraham Tannenbaum and Harry Passow of Teachers College. Each summer, he participated in the Teachers College Summer Institute on the Gifted and met the gifted education faculty and GLEP fellows from the 7 GLEP universities (Teachers College, the University of Connecticut, the University of Virginia, the University of Georgia, the University of South Florida, Purdue University, and The University of Kansas). Pyryt said, “My time in Kansas was certainly enriched by my interactions with the other GLEP fellows —Jacquie Huber, Woody Houseman, and Madon Hawk.”
In addition to his courses in gifted education, Pyryt took every course in statistics and research that he could. The most influential course was Doug Glasnapp's multivariate statistics. “I instantly knew that quantitative studies in gifted education cried out for multivariate analysis since they involved multiple independent and dependent variables. “ Every analysis that he ever performed since then has involved some form of multivariate analysis.
He was also influenced by John Poggio's course in Program Evaluation, which helped him to clearly differentiate research and program evaluation. He was introduced to Provus' Discrepancy Evaluation Model, which he uses as a key ingredient in designing program evaluations.
Pyryt’s first publication in the field was "Value Congruity between Gifted Students and their Parents." It involved a comparison of Allport-Vernon-Lindzey Study of Value Profiles Between Mathematically Gifted Students and Their Parents. The data was originally collected by Lynn Fox as part of her dissertation. It was the first of several studies dealing with affective characteristics such as learning styles, self-concept. When asked “If people were to begin to study the oeuvre of Pyryt and only had a few studies to focus on, which would they be?” Pyryt replied, Hopefully, the next one. Basically, my studies tend to have several features. First, I tend to have an instrument development component, a historical component, and apply multivariate techniques. I also like my article in JEG with Sal Mendaglio in 1994 on our approach to self-concept. Those interested in Learning Style might examine "Is the Preferred Learning Style of the Gifted: A State or a Trait? in the International Journal for Special Education. His reanalysis of the Terman's data of A's and C's has both the historical and multivariate component (It was in The Roeper Review in 1993).
In West Virginia, gifted education is part of special education. Programs for the gifted and teacher certification in gifted are required by state mandate. Pyryt taught some of the courses that helped teachers get certified. “The best part of the teaching for me was the development and refinement of the courses. Some teachers liked what I had to offer. Others were less enthusiastic about the research and theory than I was. “
JP: You collaborate with Sal Mendaglio a lot. Would you discuss the roles you take in the collaboration and why you work together?
MP: It's been a delight to collaborate with Sal Mendaglio. I think we make a productive team. Sal’s strengths are his understanding of psychological theory, particularly social development, and the insights gained from years of practice as a chartered psychologist. My strengths are in my knowledge of the gifted education literature, psychometrics, and multivariate analysis. Our skills complement each other and we have developed a strategy for working together. Our collaboration tends to focus on self-concept, Dabrowski's Theory of Positive Disintegration or the interaction of Dabrowski and self-concept theory. We discuss a potential collaboration and decide who should take the lead on a particular project.
Pyryt and Mendaglo have developed their own approach to self-concept assessment called the Pyryt Mendaglio Self-Perception Survey. It takes both a multidimensional and a multi-theoretical approach to self-concept. The instruments that Pyryt uses are psychometrically-sound (acceptable reliability and validity) and they adequately reflect the complexity of the construct. Pyryt said,
From my perspective, one can generally find technically-adequate measures. It's more difficult to find instruments that take into account the complexity of the construct. For example, there are plenty of learning style measures: For the most part, they assume that learning style is a trait, i.e. one has the same learning style across subject areas. In one piece of research, I used a state approach to learning style, trying to assess consistency across subject areas. (The learning styles were consistent, contrary to my expectation. My explanation is that learning styles only need to operate when the subject matter gets difficult so perhaps the sample perceived each of the subjects as equally difficult. That's a hypothesis for future research).
Time and finances permitting, he is likely to include a popular well-known instrument and an experimental one in his research.
He still likes Thorndike's definition of social intelligence. “ In analyzing the evolution of the concept, it seems that many researchers have focused on the first component, understanding others, rather than the second component, acting wisely in social situations. I believe that the essence of social intelligence lies in interaction.” An article co-authored with another collegue will appear in Gifted Education International in 2002.When asked to discuss the difference between social intelligence and academic intelligence, Pyryt said,
Basically, social intelligence is what Gardner would call interpersonal intelligence, skill in relating to others. I don't know how that it is possible without self-understanding or what Gardner calls intrapersonal intelligence. It's also similar to what Sternberg calls practical intelligence and what Goleman calls "emotional intelligence." (Only Sternberg gives credit to Thorndike). When I think of academic intelligence, I think of scores on individual IQ tests or group IQ/aptitude tests that assess verbal ability.
When asked about what he thinks are his most important research findings, he commented that whenever he read blanket statements about the characteristics of the gifted particularly affective characteristics, “I get queasy. My analysis of the literature, meta-analytic studies, and data-based studies suggest that things are far more complicated then they first appear. In many cases, what appears to be differences between gifted and average-ability students may simply be SES differences.” He also hopes that someday his adaptation of Sternberg's theory to describe key ingredients for creative development will be a major contribution. Right now, it is just another conception of giftedness.”
Pyryt’s line of life research continues with coherence and consistency.
Here is a list of studies he has done that he recommends to those who are curious about his life’s work:
Selected References: Dr. Michael Pyryt
Fox, L. H., and Pyryt, M. C. (1979). The guidance of gifted youth. Educational Forum, 43, l85-l92.
Friedman, P. G. (1978, November). Social giftedness: Description and development. Paper presented at the meeting of the National Association for Gifted Children, Houston.
Pyryt, M. C. (1975). Eye contact: A survey of attitudes. Letters and Papers on the Social Sciences, 2, 25-32.
Pyryt, M. C. (1976). Attitudes towards teaching the gifted child. Intellectually Talented Youth Bulletin, 2, 1-2.
Pyryt, M. C. (1976, September). Value congruity between gifted students and their parents. Paper presented at the meeting of the American Psychological Association, Washington, D. C.
Pyryt, M. C. (1976, 0ctober). Inner-city students' perceptions of the gifted. Paper presented at the meeting of the National Association for Gifted Children, October, Kansas City.
Pyryt, M. C. (1977). Value congruity between gifted students and their parents. Talents and Gifts, 19, 9-12.
Pyryt, M. C. (1977, November). Survey of teachers' knowledge and attitudes toward the gifted student. Paper presented at the meeting of the National Association for Gifted Children, San Diego.
Pyryt, M. C. (1978, November). Issues in identifying the socially gifted. Paper presented at the meeting of the National Association for Gifted Children, Houston.
Pyryt, M. C. (1979). Inner-city students' perceptions of the gifted. Journal for the Education of the Gifted, 2, 99-l05. Pyryt, M. C. (1985). Measuring adolescents’ interpersonal communication skills: Structural and practical dimensions. Dissertation Abstracts International, 45, 2457A.
Pyryt, M. C. (1990). Using the Discrepancy Evaluation Model to energize programs for the gifted. In SAGE 1990 Conference Proceedings (pp. 137-142). Calgary: The Society for the Advancement of Gifted Education.
Pyryt, M. C. (1991). Is the preferred learning style of gifted students a state? or a trait? International Journal of Special Education, 6, 45-53.
Pyryt, M. C. (1993). The fulfillment of promise revisited: A discriminant analysis of factors predicting success in the Terman Study. Roeper Review, 15, 178-179.
Pyryt, M. C. (1993). The three faces of creativity revisited: Intimacy, passion, and commitment. Gifted Education International, 9, 22-23.
Pyryt, M. C. (in-press). Social giftedness: The evolution of the concept and its application in everyday life. Gifted Education International.
Pyryt, M. C. & Friedman, P. G. (1980, April). Correlates of social communication Skills. Paper presented at the meeting of the American Educational Research Association, Boston.
Pyryt, M. C., & Mendaglio, S. (1994). The Multidimensional self-concept: A comparison of gifted and average-ability adolescents. Journal for the Education of the Gifted, 17, 299-305. Stanley, J. C., George, W. C., & Solano (1979). (Eds.). The gifted and the creative: A fifty-year perspective. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press.
Message for Michael
It is an honor and privilege to speak on behalf of Michael's self-proclaimed extended family - those of us who have come to know and love this extraordinary man as mentor, advisor, colleague, boss, and most important, as trusted friend.
There has been such sorrow, shock, disbelief and loss in this past week as we each heard, in our individual ways that Michael had passed - no longer with us in the way we had come to know and cherish. "What a dark day for the gifted" - was the echoing message that reverberated throughout the world's gifted community. And as Jenn Aldred, Michael's former grad student and long time friend so poignantly said, "The grief washes over me in waves."
I remember thinking, "Not Michael!" and then wondering, "Why Michael?" feeling numb and then lost - how would I manage without my touchstone - upon whom for almost 2 decades I had tested my ideas, fears, hopes, and dreams in my practice and research in gifted education? How would we, as a community, manage without Michael in our advocacy of best practice for our brightest bunnies? How would we manage without our friend?
In our grief, we turned to one another to make sense and through our conversations we remembered that nothing exists in isolation, community is everything, and we are part of a greater whole. We have laughed through the tears and cried through the laughter. "Blessed are they who mourn, for they shall be comforted."
And so the healing process begins: the sadness of our loss for Michael's physical presence diminishes as our remembrances give cause to the celebration of his amazing life and legacy of service. He has been a gatherer of people, ironic given his introverted and deeply private nature. One of his greatest gifts to us has been that of community. Michael understood Wheatley's wisdom: "Relationships are all there is. Everything in the universe only exists because it is in relationship to everything else. We have to stop pretending that we are individuals who can go it alone." He may have been well ahead of his time.
It has been said the best legacies any one of us can leave are the little adventures and events that gave us laughter and left fond memories in the hearts of those who knew us. And there have been wonderful Michael stories over the years, which hopefully we will be able to share with one another in one way or another…
1. Linda Finlay's story is a telling one. She said, "Michael was never one to talk about himself so I was surprised to learn that he rescued dogs that were old or ill. One day he showed up at the Centre with a bandaged hand. He said his dog had bitten him. This was the first time I learned that Michael was a dog lover and that he had taken in more than one dog to care for when others had given up on them. A few years ago, we were forced to make the decision to have our two dogs euthanized. For a minute, I thought of throwing the dogs over Michael's fence. I knew he would take care of them. Michael cared for all of us as he did the dogs. He never gave up on us."
2. Jenn Aldred says, "The most indelible and unshakeable image I have of Michael was a rare and precious moment when he sat in my classroom of fourth and fifth grade students. "
Michael was vigilant about creating opportunities at the university for gifted children to come and experience high-level curriculum and learning - he was also a master at fleshing out the rigorous graduate studies "program requirements" with the interests and passions of his graduate students…and so, in his usual student-centered way, he had cleverly finagled a way for me to field test a curriculum unit I had written with a group of kids and receive course credit at the same glorious time. Michael came in to observe my class at the university one early Saturday morning.
He sat amongst the wide-eyed 7 and 8 year olds, his vest, tie and blazer adding a feel of Ivy League to our humble classroom.
I introduced Dr. Pyryt with a long litany of his many research contributions, prestigious university appointments and dazzling acronyms. I then asked if any of the kids had any questions for Michael before we got started.
One boy put up his hand.
I beamed with pride - after all, isn't this why we love to teach these kids? Their precocious interest in scholarship…their uncanny ability to grasp and address things as an adult would… I simply KNEW my precious group of brilliant children would appreciate the significance of the esteemed Dr Pyryt's presence.
"Yes", I said, "what would you like to ask?", bracing myself for a question concerning Michael's stake in quantitative analysis - or perhaps an articulate query regarding his strong role as advocate and ambassador of the Center for Gifted Education…
"Umm…" the boy said, almost breathless with anticipation, "What I would like to know is…how did you first BECOME a Pirate?"
All the kids nodded and whispered with nervous eagerness.
Michael paused and smiled and paused again.
Pushing up his sleeves, he said, "Well…" He half smiled, paused, and looked up at something invisible on the ceiling as I had seen him do so many times. He smiled. Paused… Paused again… I prepared myself for the matter-of-fact clarification of the spelling of his name.
"I could tell you", he said, gazing over to the side, wrinkling his brow as though he were really pondering the matter. "But then I'd have to kill you."
There he sat, the sleeves of his blazer pushed up, forearms placed on one of the tables arranged in a careful circle which he shared with three other children, all a quarter of his size. The kids fluttered in breathless adoration.
He availed himself completely and authentically in the world of these students. And they knew it. I saw in that moment that this was his real work - his magic.
3. Ann Greenwood, Michael's trusted and valued "Right Hand Centered Woman" notes, "They say people come into our lives for a reason… and I was so blessed that Michael was in my life. He brought much to enrich our lives."
He loved his coffee and I realize it was more than about just having a cup (which he did soooo often). One of my favorite "Michael" phrases that I will miss is - "I'm just going to have a coffee with Sal" and off they would go to solve the issues of the world in their own special way! Michael always had time: to help, to listen, to support a cause or family in need, time to MAKE A DIFFERENCE.
As well, he gave time. When my youngest was diagnosed with leukemia several years ago and I had only worked for Michael about a year I went in to try to explain what was going on, not knowing what to expect and before I could give him the details, he just smiled in his special way - and said, "Take all the time you need - family comes first."
Michael was dedicated, honest, humble, generous, caring, and sincere in all he did. He was passionate about gifted and he shared that passion with all he met - he wanted to enrich the lives of gifted people and in sharing that with us all, I have realized even more so in the last few days, how he enriched the lives of all he knew.
4. Going to conferences with Michael and Sal always were great learning experiences. Attending NAGC in Charlotte in 2006 Lynn, Martha and I discovered how renowned and respected this indomitable duo truly are on the international stage. We also learned how heady it is to be with a couple of rock stars, as they guided us from one wine and cheese gathering to the next. Note to self: academics are not always stuffy!
After the conference and when our flight was almost home, we were re-routed to Billings, Montana, where we were stranded 4 - 5 hours on the tarmac, 1 - 2 hours getting rooms at the only hotel that was open (no staff included), and 2 - 3 hours to rest in the wee hours of the morning. And through those many hours, Michael was our shepherd - for Miraca, Lynn, Martha, and me. These are the times that permit a glimpse into the character of another.
5. At NAGC in Minneapolis this last November, Michael consented to go shopping at the largest mall in America with Martha and me and I have to tell you, he held his own, although he made it clear that he was on his own and would meet us later for lunch. When we re-connected in the middle of the hustle and bustle, he seemed interested when we showed him each of our many purchases and as a good sport in return pulled out the one item he had bought, an awesome new sweater!
And always the rich, complex conversations, whether in the mall, on the bus, the train, over lunch or dinner… When you asked Michael a question about anything - anything - he always nailed it with clarity, precision, breadth of knowledge and tremendous insight. He also had tons of advice about how to choose a good wine or spirit…
He encouraged me to see and imagine from various perspectives, and in so doing, broadened my worldview. Michael was a catalyst and inspiration to my life's purpose, as I know he was for many. Forever grateful…
In conversation was how many of us knew Michael best. Hal Curties notes there were no 2 minute conversations with Dr. Pyryt and Pat Petrie says, "As I think about Michael I realize how much I'll miss our conversations - he was so generous with his time and his knowledge. And I shall miss his encouragement in all of our efforts on behalf of gifted children. I enjoyed his sense of humor and I respected the respect that he showed to others.
III Who Was Michael Pyryt?
From my frank perspective, Michael was one of the purest individuals I have known. As a friend and colleague said, "You know I could never get him to gossip!"
That he had a brilliant mind was clearly evident; that he led with empathy, intuition and compassionate heart was equally transparent. What a powerful force for good he has been!
He was a humanitarian who epitomized integrity and possessed great humility, a generosity of spirit, a wicked sense of humor and most effective hand gestures to underscore an important point!
He was a "way show-er" and "truth finder" - a moral compass - and always sought his true north. There was simply no way to take him off track. As Margaret Wheatley notes, "When someone speaks the truth, we all become hopeful." And Michael consistently brought us sustained hopefulness.
Michael's authenticity as a person and educator was relentlessly steadfast - and the representation of his essence. He held a high degree of unity in his thinking, emotions, and activity. He was highly conscious and his autonomously developed hierarchy of values was his core of "being, knowing, and acting." I believe he was the truth, which speaks to his unfailing trustworthiness. He was always there when you most needed him.
And as mentioned, it has been "Family First" for Michael. We remember him as one proud grandpa who would whisk out the latest pictures of his beautiful granddaughter, Brooke, in 30 seconds flat, his face beaming, or lead us to the Brooke Gallery on the computer in his office! The importance of family was also clearly evident in his professional life: his extensive international family in the field and his amazingly gifted family at the Centre. Ann says, "We knew he loved his family dearly. He believed in family, and I think the 'Centre' was his second family. Over the past week we have realized his family is even bigger than any of us might have known."
Among his recent extended family is the Westmount Charter School Community who valued all that Michael knew and gave. As Superintendent Merv Kurtz recently noted, "Michael was a kind, gentle soul. His great wisdom was demonstratively depicted with humility."
We thank you, his "real" family for having shared Michael with us through all these years.
As we celebrate Michael's life well lived, we honor his scholarly accomplishment and abundant success - a good thing. However, the other day I was struck by something I read by a long distance runner, who distinguished the difference between success and significance. He said, "When we cross a finish line, reach a goal, we feel successful. Success is a sense of personal achievement, a task well done.
But beyond that, and more important, we achieve a sense of significance. Significance is the knowledge that we have made a contribution to others or had an impact in somebody's life. Significance carries us beyond ourselves. Success is soon forgotten; significance lasts forever. We are remembered because we've been significant, rather than successful."
And therein lays the difference. Michael's significance… What a wonderful testimonial of all that is good. Jenn recently said, "It gives us comfort to be part of the circle that joins us to Michael's core and his wise, gentle truth. It really was an honor, wasn't it?"
Yes, it was. Not one of us will be able to match Michael's footprints or fill the formidable void he leaves. However, as the community he has gathered and trusted, we can embrace the challenge he has left us: we can join hands, roll up our sleeves, raise the ceiling, raise a toast for Michael, focus on the higher common good, and in the wisdom of Pooh, remember that "We are smarter than we think, stronger than we seem, and braver than we feel." I can see Michael smiling. He approves - I know it.
In the words of Tagore, "Your voice, my friend, wanders in my heart, like the muffled sound of the sea among the listening pines."
We love you, Michael; we honor the magnificence in you - always have, always will. God Bless.
Janneke Frank January 18, 2008
He came into us.
He came into me.
His brilliant humor lightly flew into my soberness and took it away.
His sparkling wisdom evenly drew near to my weakness and took it away.
His spotless smile naturally dove into my deep sorrow and took it away.
His temperate empathy wholly spread through my uneasiness and took it away.
He came into me so and took my soberness, weakness, sorrow, and uneasiness away.
He came into us so and took some parts of us.
He came into us so and he went away so, holding some parts of us with him.
As he came into us so, will the air that we breathe into show us the way he went?
As he came into us so, will the wind that we touch through explain his severe last minute?
As he came into us so, will the rain that we soak into allow us to imagine that it feels his absence?
As he came into us so, will the sunlight that shed upon us allow us to visualize the place he is?
As he came into us so and went away so, holding some parts of us, his spirit truly was with us and his spirit is still truly with us.
By His living spirit in us and His entire love given to us, we all honor Him as Great Spirit.
Sincerely, Hye Kyung Kang
Parable of the Pencil
By Author Unknown
The Pencil Maker took the pencil aside, just before putting him into the box.
There are 5 things you need to know, he told the pencil, before I send you out into the world. Always remember them and never forget, and you will become the best pencil you can be.
One: You will be able to do many great things, but only if you allow yourself to be held in someone's hand.
Two: You will experience a painful sharpening from time to time, but you'll need it to become a better pencil.
Three: You will be able to correct any mistakes you might make.
Four: The most important part of you will always be what's inside.
And Five: On every surface you are used on, you must leave your mark. No matter what the condition, you must continue to write.
The pencil understood and promised to remember, and went into the box with purpose in its heart.