L. Brooks Lakin, a high school history teacher whose relentlessly high standards and intellectualism challenged and inspired generations of students, died Thursday of complications from a brain tumor at his Reisterstown home. He was 70.
Mr. Lakin was a revered teacher at the Park School in Brooklandville for 40 years -- longer than any other teacher in the institution's history, said John Roemer, a fellow history teacher. "Here is a teacher who gives the most ferocious tests in the world, requires extraordinarily difficult research papers and asks tough questions in class -- and kids are knocking down the door trying to get in the classroom," Mr. Roemer said. "There's some kind of magic in it."
Former students frequently said they learned more about critical thinking from Mr. Lakin than they did from any other teacher -- not just in high school but in college and graduate school. They frequently worked harder, as well -- many students said college history classes were a breeze after making it through Mr. Lakin's class. His wife of 47 years, Geraldine K. Lakin, has a scrapbook of letters to that effect, including one from a former student that arrived the day of her husband's death. "You made me a better student and a stronger thinker," the letter reads. "You created a standard no one else could surpass."
Mr. Lakin was born in Hagerstown and graduated from Mercersburg Academy in Pennsylvania before earning a bachelor's degree in English and history from the University of Pennsylvania in 1958. He and his wife -- who met in the eighth grade at a Friday night dance in Hagerstown -- married his senior year. He subsequently earned two master's degrees, one in history from Syracuse University and the other in education from the Johns Hopkins University.
In 1961, after a brief stint teaching at a school in Syracuse, N.Y., Mr. Lakin joined the faculty at Park, where he taught American history, including the Advanced Placement course. Students encountered a courtly and quietly charismatic man who managed to be witty, entertaining and encouraging all at once. He was often irreverent -- a student once collected a notebook of "Lakinisms," his pithy takes on everything from public sentimentalism and left-wing fads, which he abhorred, to military history, which he loved.
Mr. Lakin, who long served as the department chairman, could be intimidating at first. He never lowered his expectations, but eventually students figured out he was concerned about them. He assigned reams of reading, including many monographs and primary documents, and constantly asked students to explore assumptions and interpretations to find out what really happened in history, said David Jackson, the head of the school.
Before the department enforced limitations on length, students regularly turned in 50-page papers for his courses and even, occasionally, 150-page tomes. He taught without notes and was known to never give the same test twice. "He was an amazing storehouse of knowledge," said Lucky Mallonee, a colleague and former student. "Pre-Internet, he was my Internet."
A sports enthusiast with a mean hook shot, Mr. Lakin coached Park basketball teams for many years. He led the 1969 boys varsity to an undefeated season, which become the stuff of legend. Until recently, he coached the middle school basketball team.
Though he retired in 2002, school administrators persuaded him to teach one class a semester. He taught a class on the 1960s, which he called "The Crucial Decade."
"He was such a great teacher, we wanted a few more students to have their lives transformed by having a Brooks Lakin class," Dr. Jackson said. School alumni approached Mr. Lakin about offering an adult evening course on the same subject, and he was preparing that class when he became ill last year.
The family will receive visitors from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. today at the Eckhardt Funeral Chapel, 11605 Reisterstown Road in Owings Mills. A memorial celebration will be held at 3 p.m. April 14 at the school, 2425 Old Court Road.
In addition to his wife, survivors include a son, Michael Lakin of Carmel, Ind.; daughters Kim Eysaman of Westminster and Laurie Veasey of Chapel Hill, N.C.; a half-sister, Deborah Stephens of Monroe, Ga.; and seven grandchildren.
Sun reporter Mary Gail Hare contributed to this article.