Dr. David Buckthal, or “Buck” as he was fondly called, died last month. He was a colleague and a friend.
When I joined Harrisburg Academy’s community, I quickly became aware of Dave because we shared a rather thin wall. I observed that he was very smart, friendly, funny, generous and pretty loud; he seemed to have quite a following, as the students generally congregated in his classroom during free times.
Dave was many things, but most visibly, he was an educator – a gifted teacher. He never spoke down to the students, instead he met them where they were, challenging them with the right amount of expectation and empathy. He would, however, use variations of dumb, with candor, if he thought someone’s choices or behaviors were below the standard. This honesty was appreciated because it was offered without pretense or a sense of superiority.
His patience and genuine care for his students was evident every day. He spent hours before and after school tutoring students who needed extra help, or who just loved to be in his company. His room was the center for the dissemination of information long before we all became dependent on the internet for the latest news.
His most common greeting as students entered his room was, “What’s happen’n?” He was known for his love of conversing. I believe his transparency and spontaneity was exactly what the students loved and admired most, and these were the keys to Dave’s popularity and connection with his students year in and year out – he was the guy they knew would give it to them straight, in his flamboyant style, with candor and genuine caring.
During our first face-to-face conversation after his diagnosis, he said “I don’t want one of those obituaries that says he died after a heroic battle with cancer… I am not interested in that. Instead I want: ‘He lived life to the fullest, until he couldn’t. Dot, dot, dot, period.’” And that he did. He walked through the end of his life as he lived it – with logic, heart, the people he enjoyed loving, and a healthy dose of humor.