Yesterday I saw an orange cone sitting on the middle of a field. When I went to get it, I discovered that it was sitting atop a water-line access, and I smiled. Mark put that there because runners pass that route and he’d worried that someone would trip. I’m constantly running into reminders of Mark’s care: a limb cut, a pothole filled, flagging tied to mark a danger. Faint traces of a quiet guardian angel moving head of us unasked, making no fuss, ever vigilant, always looking, noticing, thinking. Mark knew that his work was no mere job.
He was a steward entrusted with the care of the cross country course and the football and soccer and lacrosse and baseball fields and the track—and he understood, in every small task, that his care of these places was care for the people who used them, care for the athletic program, his part of the work of the school. This is the reason he was as meticulous as a brain surgeon. His every measurement was exact to the smallest fraction, his every line, as straight as a ruler. Recently a group a came to hand measure our cross country course and index it to other well-known courses across the country, and they were flabbergasted to find that ours was within a couple of strides of being exactly 5K while the other courses they’d measured had been off by a hundred meters. Mark sank steel spikes at the site of each flag and located them each year with a metal detector, so the course never changed. Of course he did. Of course we had the sturdiest, safest finishing chute and the only course in the state which followed the official guidelines for flags (red for left, yellow for right, blue for straight). When we’d run big meets at other places, I’d always notice that they did not have a Mark.
He was a loyal steward, as well, of so much that no one ever saw. He watched Woodberry’s money as if it were his own, using every can of paint down to the last fumes. His shop was a temple to order. Even the floor was spotless. He reminded me so much of the great Bobby Moubray in the way he took care of Woodberry’s things. His successor (God help him for having to fill these boots) will be astonished at what he will find: every tool cleaned and put away, every piece of equipment accounted for, every gear oiled, every blade sharpened, and notebooks filled with precise notes about each job he did.
Mark was a great teacher in the art of living and working with considered intention. A wise elder told me years ago that Woodberry had a way of educating the teachers as well as the boys if we stayed around long enough and paid attention. He was talking about what happens to you when you work among fine people who have noble values and disciplined habits, who show you, every day in every way, how to see and do your work. I spent a lot of hours with Mark scouting routes for new cross country courses, brainstorming, measuring, talking, and I never got out of that cart without being a little better at my work. When I’d get in a hurry and start to cut a corner across the golf course or a hay field, Mark would say, “You probably ought to drive around. They might not like us cutting across,” or he’d gently remind me to slow down ask permission for some wild idea I was enthused about or remind me that the idea might made extra work for somebody who already had plenty to do. He was reminding me, each time, that all we do here we do together, and that when we do our jobs well, we do them with a thought for others.
I hope, going forward, that I will remember all that Mark taught me.
By Ben Hale, Woodberry Forest Cross Country Coach