I lost a friend this week. We had not talked in decades, but she was a friend indeed. Dorothy Stephenson — teacher, mentor, high school librarian, Student Council sponsor — Dorothy Stephenson passed away this week at the age of 100. Hardly a week has gone by in my adult life that I did not think of her, and always with great fondness and gratitude. I’m so glad I sent her a letter a few months ago in honor of her 100th birthday. A few years ago in a sermon at First Congregational Church of Los Angeles titled “Pay it Forward” I spoke about Mrs. Stephenson. I honor her today and remember her with a few of those words. Perhaps you’ll pause today, give thanks for a teacher who changed your life, and then perhaps, like I try to do, you’ll pay it forward.
I think about Dorothy Stephenson today. She was the librarian at my high school. She was small. Gray hair. Always wore her hair up in a bun. Reading glasses at the end of her nose. And she had a fierce kind of intelligence. She was also the sponsor for the Student Council, and since I was on the Student Council, I spent a lot of time with Dorothy Stephenson. And every time I saw her, not some of the time but every time, she would tell me about a book. “Now, you must read this one,” she would say. Sometimes she walked me over to the stacks and made sure I pulled it off the shelf and checked it out at the front desk. Or she would say things like “You must read that one. You need to know this author. You’ll love her writing. This book is important. Make sure you read it.” Honestly, I think I’m an avid reader today and have been my entire adult life, partly because of my mother, and partly because of Mrs. Stephenson. I didn’t plan on having a Dorothy Stephenson in my life. I didn’t earn it. I didn’t deserve it. It was pure gift and it just happened. But because she gave to me, I am required, yes, required, to pay something forward to others. I cannot go back and repay her. But I can pay forward.