InMarket: Rasputin and the Rotary

It was that maniacal Russian mystic/charlatan Rasputin who led me to the Downtown Rotary club on June 20. No, really, the wily Machiavellian Rasputin still has that power, though I doubt he was a Rotarian. I suspect he rarely abided by the Four-Way Rotarian Test regarding truth, fairness, goodwill and mutual benefit for all.

I met former R.L. Paschal High School history teacher Dean Cozine, in town to be honored by several former students who were setting up a scholarship in his name. Cozine and I didn’t cross paths at Paschal, though I did cross paths with legendary Coach Charlie Turner, then teaching geography but full of sports stories.

Cozine, himself a Paschal grad, had played quarterback for Turner on the legendary 1956 team that won a district championship, and later worked with him for a while as a Paschal coach. But Cozine said he decided he’d have better luck teaching and taught history until 1970 when he and his wife left for California. He doesn’t recall anything special he did as a teacher at Paschal. Well, there was the time during the divisive and strident debate over the Vietnam War that he and students organized an all-school program to discuss all sides of the issue. Oh, and there was the first Earth Day program, another all-school event. “The students did all the work, I just helped get it going,” he said. His former students standing around him, John Fletcher of Fletcher Communications and area auto dealer Mac Churchill, just rolled their eyes.

“He made history come alive; we never forgot his classes,” said Churchill. It was Fletcher who initially got the ball rolling, albeit through a bit of serendipity. Fletcher had arranged for a client to make a speech about his favorite teacher. But, at the last minute, the client called to say he couldn’t make it. (A little Rasputin magic at work?) So Fletcher made the speech and spoke about Cozine. As Fletcher says, “Rather than simply say the Romanov Dynasty around WWI was dysfunctional, Mr. Cozine invested not one, not two, but three days detailing how a peasant named Gregor Rasputin had earned his way into a position of influence with Tsar Nicholas and Tsarina Alexandra.”

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It might have all stopped there, but Fletcher began telling Churchill, another Paschal graduate, about the speech he gave. Churchill’s wheels began turning and, as the Paschal Class of ’69 was preparing for its 45th reunion, he had a proposal. “If you can find Dean Cozine and get him here, I’ll pay his travel expenses, host a party and let’s start a scholarship fund in his honor,” he told Fletcher. And Fletcher, who practices the Six Degrees of Separation view of the world as well as anyone I know, tracked down the former teacher. Fletcher, knowing I was part of the Paschal cabal, invited me to have lunch with Cozine at the Rotary Club meeting. Such is the power of Rasputin. But it pales in comparison to the power of a great teacher.