Deciding he'd finally put his "100 percent" in, Thompson Intermediate School Principal E.J. Ritchey changed the direction of his commitment to community service and announced his retirement from public education.
After 33 years of service to Pasadena ISD, Ritchey looked at his work, liked what he saw and sought a new challenge. He filed as a candidate for Pasadena City Council.
"I've always been committed to community service and to the kids of the community and I just look at running for a seat on the city council as an extension of community service," said Ritchey.
For 15 years, the name plate over Ritchey's door at Thompson read principal. Over the years, Ritchey became an integral part of the community and a positive force in the education of South Belt area children.
"I've seen a lot of changes in education over the years. The one that worries me most is the rise in emotional problems students today must face. The make-up of he family has changed. You have situations where both parents work, you have one-parent families, and an overall lack of discipline. I call it a values vacuum, but I don't think parents are all to blame. Schools have lost the discipline authority they once had," said Ritchey.
"Teachers are doing a better job than ever educating our children. I think educators need to stop and look at what we are teaching the children. Curriculum, especially on the intermediate level, needs to be closely watched. For a good number of students educators need to re-eevaluate what we're teaching those children. I think we need to start vocational training earlier for those students who just aren't going to make it into college. We have students at Thompson who just can't wait until high school for vocational training. They'll give up," said Ritchey.
When Ritchey hears the bell ring for the last time, he hopes students and teachers remember his desire to succeed, never to give in to mediocrity.
"We've always been winners at Thompson. Winners in academics and winners in sports. We won state titles for Knowledge Masters and Honor Orchestra. Our TEAMS scores are at the top of the district. Extracurricular activities are great, but academics are why we're here," said Ritchey.
In order to obtain his goals, Ritchey has always "been perpetually dissatisfied with himself in order to improve.
We (Thompson) couldn't have done the things we did without the finest staff in he district. They're absolutely second to none. They're dedicated. They love the kids and they are darn good teachers. We also had the support and full cooperation of the parents in the area. The parents who became involved in the school showed a deep love for their children and insisted on the best education for their children.
PISD Superintendent Dr. Lon Luty said Ritchey was an outstanding school administrator in every way, "He was a motivator and that motivation was infectious throughout the school. He will be sorely missed -- really missed because there is no real competition for Bacarro to keep up with," said Luty.
"I'm going to miss the day-to-day relationships I've developed over the years, not only in school but in the community also, I'll miss the kids . . . I haven't really thought about what I'll do the first time I realize I don't have to go to the office. I keep too busy for that and hopefully I'll stay too busy. I just operate that way," said Ritchey.
Dobie High School Principal Jerry Speer called Ritchey one of PISD's finest. "He is one of the finest gentlemen I've ever met and is a working example of a dedicated professional educator. He'll be missed," said Speer.
"Teachers will never be paid the money they are worth. I hope young people going into education realize teaching is not money, it is a love of kids and a blind dedication and worth every minute of it.
"Hopefully, I'll be able to continue my work in community service, my work for education. We'll see how the voters feel. If not . . I'll just go fishing," said Ritchey.
The voters decided he'd better not go fishing, and voted him as Pasadena City Councilman. He also served as Chairman of the Board of the Pasadena Historical Society.
I found a set of 8 black and white photos of Mr. Ritchey in the cabinets that resulted in the one photo run with the retirement story:
Mr. Ritchey still resides in Pasadena today.
From one of Mr. Ritchey's first years as Thompson principal:
And in 1979
My Mr. Ritchey story came in my 8th grade year, when I was a student in Mr. Flores' U.S. History class.
Mr. Flores assigned everyone to select a topic of a Federal law they would want passed. We had to write up our debate on the passage of this law to present to the class. He choose a row to be the senate, and the rest of the class sat as the House of Representatives. The trouble came when I'd had my bill pass almost unanimously through both House and Senate and he, as President, vetoed it, simply because he disagreed. (Full disclosure: I now hold the same position he did.)
But as an outraged, defeated 8th grader who'd worked quite hard on my argument only to be met with "I disagree. Vetoed," I was livid.
I know, now of course, he couldn't possibly get into a intricacies of a hotbed topic such as the death penalty without creating a furor with half of the class' parents, but "I disagree" after all that work?? I remember being so red-faced and angry and insisting the class should have had an option to vote a President that was not Mr. Flores.
He seemed amused and ask, "Who would do it, then?"
Out of desperation, I retorted, "Why not Mr. Ritchey?"
Now, understand, this was pretty out of character for me in 8th grade. I was a nerdy, outcast kid with a metal mouth, Herminone-worthy hair, and plenty of acne. I typically was not willing to put myself in the front of a class full of kids and take on a teacher.
But not this time.
Mr. Flores smiled, and said, "Why don't you go ask him?"
Somehow, I found myself walking to the Principal's office for the first time in my life, wondering what on earth I was going to say. Luckily, I'd worked as an office helper and had interacted with Mr. R. in that capacity, so he at least knew who I was.
He was so kind and agreed to sit in our class for the next two days to listen and rule on our Congressional bills. I didn't get my bill passed since I'd already presented, but I felt like I'd won a moral victory.
[I also a won a phone call to my dad that night from Mr. Flores. When Dad and I both picked up different phones in the house and I heard who it was, I thought I was dead. I hung up my phone and sweated it out. But Mr. Flores had called Dad to tell him that I had a great career ahead of me in law, if I wanted one.]
So, some 30 years later, a sincere and heartflet thank you, to both Mr. Ritchey and Mr. Flores, for being willing to listen, and teach, and encourage crazy, hormonal, narcissistic junior high kids for all those years.
And, in June, the Leader featured his retirement party with a front page photo: