Good Night, Poppa Bear HOWARD COUNTY

April 22, 1993

His students called him Poppa Bear. Could there be a higher tribute for a principal than that?

Walter Caldwell Sr. deserved the mantel, wore it with dignity and understood the message it conveyed. For so many, he personified what it meant to be a father, exhibiting a fairy-tale kindness and the wisdom of a sage.

Poppa Bear undoubtedly was also a reference to his girth, which was wide.

But the hole he leaves in the Howard County school system has nothing to do with physical stature. It has more to do with a presence and an ability to influence his charges in a positive way.

Mr. Caldwell died eight days ago after a heart attack at age 63. He worked for the county school system for 22 years.

While some people seek their professions, he was called. He once commented that he only wanted to teach math and to coach, but certainly never wanted to be a principal.

One measure of the loss that people felt could be seen at the funeral service that marked Mr. Caldwell's death. More than 300 friends and colleagues attended the service at the Oakland Mills Meeting House in Columbia.

Mr. Caldwell's memory may have been honored most through the words of Betsy Haney.

Ms. Haney revealed that her son, who attended Glenelg High, had emotional and behavioral problems. Only Mr. Caldwell could reach him.

"For months, Walt would wait outside the classroom, and he would walk with him from class to class and talk to him," she told the congregation. "Not only did he turn him around, but my son will graduate from college next year."

There was also a funny, loving side to Walt Caldwell. Somehow you knew when he said, "Good morning," he meant it. He always said it three times in a row. Students became so enthralled with his wit, they called his sayings "Walt Caldwellisms." One of his favorites was, "I can be nice to you longer than you can be nasty to me."

And he was right. He had so much niceness and love within him that he overwhelmed belligerent or rebellious youth. He gave and gave and gave. And now he is gone.

Certainly Ms. Haney said it best for everyone: "I feel we lost a saint. He was a real saint."

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