SLOAN COLUMN: Former principal offers life lessons
In his nearly 70 years of life, 45 of which have been spent as an educator, Dr. Charlie Burry has learned a few lessons. Some of those lessons arrived by way of valuable advice offered by a mentor or friend. Others came by way of the school of hard knocks. Many are simply a byproduct of life itself.
As an educator, Burry saw it as his responsibility to pass along these valuable lessons to others so that they too might learn from them. And by others, I do not mean just students. Burry’s worldly wit and wisdom was also shared with his coworkers - teachers, counselors, cafeteria workers, and custodians. He also used the lessons as foundations or illustrations for his Sunday school class lessons at First Baptist Church in Hartsville.
After spending the last 14 years of his career in education as the principal of Hartsville High School, his alma mater, Burry retired in 2018. Since then he has been putting the finishing touches on a self-published book, aptly titled “Life Lessons … Principally Speaking: Memoirs from the Life of a High School Teacher, Counselor, Coach and Principal.” A softback edition of the book is available for purchase online at Amazon or Barnes & Noble for $19.95. The eBook is currently available for download on both sites for $4.99.
Burry has spent the last two Saturdays delivering signed copies of his book from the porch of his Hartsville home to some two hundred people who drove by to shoot the breeze and pick up their pre-purchased copy.
“This is a red-letter day for anyone who has ever tried to write a book and get it published,” said Burry. “To finally see all the hours at a keyboard actually in print and hold it in your hands is a pretty good feeling.”
The book’s 82 chapters and 343 pages are separated into six sections. The first and second sections are about the people who most influenced his life and the lessons learned from them, and others, along the way. Among them are, of course, Burry’s father, mother, and wife of 46 years; a former high school coach who taught the fundamentals of the game of life as well as the game of basketball; a guidance counselor who had a most profound impact on young Charlie’s life and whom he would later work alongside in the Hartsville High counseling office; an unassuming Little League coach who knew more than a little something about encouragement and building self-esteem in young minds; a scoutmaster who taught the teenage Burry about character and integrity; a Sunday school teacher who set an example in perseverance and resiliency; a colleague in education with whom his path continually crossed and who would become one of the greatest influences on his professional career; a former player who Burry says “is a better man and servant of God than I will ever hope to be;” and a former roommate at Furman University who became a life-long friend.
The third section is a collection of “Character Education Quotes” Burry was known for sharing during his daily morning announcements at Hartsville High. The fourth involves lessons learned during his coaching career. The lessons in the fifth section are what Burry calls “Red Fox Renaissance Lessons,” all of which pertain to his years as principal at his alma mater.
The final section of the book includes excerpts from commencement speeches he made during graduation ceremonies. A particular favorite of mine is found in Chapter 77 and is titled “It is When it is Supposed to Be.” They are the words Principal Burry offered the Class of 2013. It was incredibly difficult school year which saw the lives of three young people end prematurely. The gist of his address, based on the book “The Timekeeper” by Mitch Albom, is that time is a precious commodity and should be appreciated and not taken for granted. It ends with these words:
“It is my hope that wherever your journey leads, that you’ll occasionally be at a point in your life where you’ll marvel at the beauty of the sunrise and give thanks for being able to witness it, where you’ll focus on the miracle of the day … because time never crosses your mind.”
Principally speaking, there is much to be learned by investing some time to read Dr. Burry’s book. Even in his retirement, he remains an educator.