I just learned that Mrs. Webb, my high school journalism teacher, passed away Tuesday after some time in hospitals. I don’t know much more than that, and this is not news for me to scramble and mis-report. Our mutual friend -- I am glad she was a friend to both of us -- Tarah left me messages yesterday and talked to me this morning to let me know; Tarah will let me know what happens next.
Mrs. Webb, Jeanne Webb -- not that I ever called her Jeanne, even after we became friends it was always Mrs. Webb -- was Madison High School’s journalism teacher when I joined as a sophomore in fall 1989. This was in Vienna, VA. She was the first teacher I worked with actively as a writer (I’d written here and there from 3rd grade on) and we found ourselves working well together. By my senior year I was the editor of the Entertainment section of the Hawk Talk, the nearly-monthly student paper (laid out more like a magazine back then; later in Mrs. Webb’s time at the school, it became more of a broadsheet) and was also a writer and proofreader. That was my first concerted work at proofing other people’s writing; she encouraged me at that, as it turned out I was good at it.
Mrs. Webb and the rest of the crew would have layout sessions at her home in Reston: we’d schlep the journalism-class computers over there and set them up in her living room. We had straight-up parties there, too; I have lots of photos of our fellow happy people at these.
She could be stubborn and touchy. At least once she fired the entire second-level newspaper crew (the more experienced of the two journalism classes; she threatened to replace us with the younger up-and-coming crew in the first-level class) and kind of sort of rehired us soon after. She also was susceptible to laughing -- hard and loud. That was another way her Journalism class was deeply good for me: I loosened up there, got more social, and found more of my senses of both humor and the absurd. (I’ve said it before: I was a SERIOUS kid for much of my youth. Bad when combined with being intense, as I’ve always been; the humor, thank everything, cuts the intensity.)
Mrs. Webb put together and encouraged a good crew. I liked working with my fellow Hawk Talk people; had crushes on two of them, Kathryn and Carmen, at different times my senior year. Mrs. Webb chaperoned us to events, such as a journalism seminar at Columbia University each spring (my brother T.J. went in 1989; I went in ’92, and spent three neat days in Manhattan). And she kept in touch with us and kept encouraging us as we moved on with work and life. One of her students, T.J.’s friend Rob Owen, has for several years been the TV critic for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette; he’s probably the highest-level media person among those of us who worked with Mrs. Webb.
After my 1992 move to Oregon, where I’ve lived since, I saw Mrs. Webb a few times from 1998 to 2006. In ’98 I went to Virginia to deal with the aftermath of the loss of someone close to both Mrs. Webb and me. She and I had dinner with Tarah and her then-fiancé Tom; afterwards, Tarah and Tom left the restaurant in one direction and Mrs. Webb and I left in another, and as we kept talking I realized Mrs. Webb had assumed I’d also had a crush on Tarah. She was surprised I hadn’t: “All the guys had crushes on her!” I realized the truth almost as I told Mrs. Webb: I’d long felt brotherly towards Tarah, almost from when we‘d met in fall ’91 (when she was a freshman and I a senior). She was glad I felt so. We next had a long visit in July 2002, talking about 9/11-raised issues and my then-new nephews who I was also visiting. In 2006 we attended Tarah’s wedding, to John (the father of Tarah’s daughter); Mrs. Webb‘s son Mike, who sings for the Navy, sang at the wedding. Great, deep voice.
She was fond and proud of us, and we liked her. We worked well together; we weathered a lot together. Difficulties and loss still happened, as they do, but we managed. Drama took place, but that was manageable as well. I wouldn’t trade it, because again, a lot of good came out of our relationship.
Bless you and Godspeed, Mrs. Webb. May you find rest. And may your family and friends find peace and strength.