E. Thomas Behr
When one thinks of human existence in the incredibly long span of time, we recognize that our lives are just the merest brief, fragile glimmer of light, like a faint star -- in an unthinkably vast, crowded sky -- that flickers for a few moments and then fades forever.
But then I think a little more deeply about the very special light and fire that radiated from Annette, warming, brightening, and illuminating my life and the lives of all the people lucky enough to know her. l'm looking at her picture as I write this. The sparkle still gleams in her eyes and the warmth of her heart dances playfully in her smile.
I met Annette more than 50 years ago when I had just started teaching at Pingry and she and Bruno were at the Short Hills Country Day School, living in that tiny cottage on Parsonage Hill Road. Over the span of years, she touched my life in important ways.
For 15 years, my family and I lived in Chatham, a few blocks away from the Tomainos. My daughters grew up with the Tomaino boys. I know Mary and Jenny would heartily echo my great happiness that “Mommy Maimo” was a part of their lives.
In 1969, I took what I thought would be a leave of absence from Pingry to study full time at Princeton for my doctorate. I found out, to my dismay, that in addition to other language requirements, I had to pass a rigorous Latin exam – accomplishing in one year what it takes most high school kids four years to master. To say that I was anxious falls short of the mark. I called Annette for help in abject terror. Of course she offered to help. I wasn’t the best student she ever taught; I certainly was among the most grateful. Thanks to her, I passed the Latin exam.
When I completed my two-year residence at Princeton and my qualifying exams, it turned out that my position at Pingry was no longer available. With a family to care for and a mortgage to meet, I desperately needed a job. It was Annette, now working at Newark Academy, who opened that door for me. I enjoyed my time at Pingry, but the ten years I spent at Newark were the happiest and most productive of my teaching career.
Through my time at Newark, Annette and I served together on important administrative committees. In all the years we worked together, I continued to marvel at Annette’s penetrating wisdom, her clear-sighted common sense, and most importantly, her deep compassion. She had the gift of seeing the potential in all the students she taught and counseled, and she gave of that gift generously and unstintingly.
I also had the opportunity to greatly appreciate her patience and forgiveness, leavened as it always was, with her irrepressible sense of humor. I was a passionately committed teacher and loved the kids I taught; the same professionalism, however, didn’t carry over into the administrative part of my job. Every quarter when grades and report cards were due, I’m ashamed to say I drove Annette, as guidance counselor, nuts with my last-minute procrastination. She should have strangled me; any jury in the country would have declared her innocent on the grounds of justifiable homicide. But she didn’t. She was tough, as she needed to be, but it was a gentle toughness.
Then, of course, there’s Camp Waganaki. I know Bruno, Chris, Greg, and Mark, and many of Annette’s friends reading this, have their own wonderful memories of that amazing, somewhat crazy experience. But as I wrote in the biography of Miller Bugliari, he made Waganaki a place where kids could grow, develop important values, and learn to become leaders. Annette fit perfectly into that world. And in the process, she, Bruno, and the boys discovered a peaceful retreat on Lake McWain that I know Annette treasured.
Those are some of the big memories. Interspersed among them, like the deft addition of spices to a delicious pasta sauce, are the innumerable small moments of love and laughter that enrich a friendship.
Knowing Annette’s pleasure in the French language she taught, I’m reminded of a quote from Rousseau that captures for me the unquenchable spirit of Annette. “Aimer et être aimé sera la grande affaire de toute notre vie. To love and be loved will be the great business of our lives.”
A star has flickered out in our horizon. But we carry within us, with gratitude and inspiration, the bright light of her wisdom and the life-nourishing warmth of her love. That will never fade.