“Fletch, if you can locate Dean Cozine and convince him to come here for your class reunion, I’ll pay to fly him here and host a reception to start a scholarship in his honor.” That was the challenge from Mac Churchill, Paschal High School ’67. Moving forward two months, I did not fully know what to expect as I awaited my arriving passenger at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport on Wednesday, June 18. Dean Cozine, the teacher who inspired so many of my classmates and me at Paschal High School 1963-70, was returning as a guest for our 45th reunion of the Class of 1969. He was also to be guest of honor at a cocktail reception on Friday evening at Mac and Lu Jo Churchill’s home, an event that would launch the Dean Cozine Scholarship Fund to benefit Paschal graduates studying history and government in college. What would I say to the teacher who wove such compelling stories about wars, treaties and dynasties in world history and the pivotal moments that defined our nation in his American history classes? Who described the guiding principles of our country in government and economics classes? Would he be the man I remembered – brilliant, insightful and patient? After 40 years of teaching, what would his demeanor be? I felt at ease within moments of recognizing him. He had a calmness about him that seemed to make everything seem all right. The Dean Cozine return saga began seven years ago when I composed a speech for a client in Port Arthur as sponsor of his local school district’s Teacher of the Year Award. The speech contained a section where the client was to share a specific example of how a teacher from his past had said or done something that truly inspired him. I grew jealous of my client because I wished I could have shared that story about how Cozine at Paschal High School had brought history to life. When he spoke of a war, we could smell the gunpowder and sense the anxiety of the moment. He placed us in the midst of critical moments in history. My favorite episode was his three-day description of the Romanov dynasty in pre-WWI Russia. Rather than casually mention that the family and government were dysfunctional, he invested three days telling the story of Tsar Nicholas, Tsarina Alexandra and their son Alexei, and how a commoner named Gregor Rasputin entered their lives and affected the Russian government. Fast forward to the Friday evening reception, and stories were being told. David Moorman shared how Cozine’s teaching led him to a career in journalism and the position of assistant editor with Texas Monthly. Rick Selcer told how Cozine inspired his love for history, which has led to his teaching history at Weatherford College and Tarrant County College for 40 years. Mac Churchill, who co-hosted the reception, mentioned how Cozine created his desire to study on an international level, which led to his double major in Greek civilization and advertising at the University of Texas. One class member who had not planned to attend the reunion flew in from Atlanta with her husband simply to express how much Cozine had meant to her in her life. Perhaps the most compelling moment occurred when Churchill told of a student whom Cozine caught not giving his best in class. “You are intellectually lazy, and you can do so much better,” the teacher said to the student. This one conversation and following encouragement redefined the student’s trajectory and he began applying himself. Today he is regarded as one of the elite performers in his prestigious profession. He attributes much of his success to Cozine’s caring enough to challenge him and urge him beyond “good enough” to excellence. The most compelling moment took place at the Saturday night Class of ’69 reunion at the Fort Worth Zoo. I caught Cozine standing by himself a couple of times and I invited him to join my date, Rebecca Barksdale, and me at the table. “I appreciate the gesture,” he said, “but I’m just soaking in what a wonderful class you had and how much they meant and still mean to me.” He cared about us back in the ‘60s and he marvels at how his former students are helping shape today’s world. Such is the influence and legacy of Dean Cozine.
John Fletcher is owner and president of Fletcher Consulting. He can be reached at 817-205-2334 or www.thefletch.org.