It was the best of times, it was the worst of times …., writes Dickens in what could be the most famous beginning sentence of any novel. However, when I think of Clifton Titus, Jr. , what I remember of Dickens’ words is, It was the best of times,…. Those six words describe the time, that of Saint Stephen’s Episcopal School for Boys during the late 1980’s and early 1990’s; but what words describe an educator like Clif Titus who led the school by preparing it for another chapter of growth that began in 1944 with its founding?
Does the ever-present pipe describe him? Or his appreciation for golf? What of his skill at Dick Babyak’s poker nights? Does his service for Emmanuel Episcopal Church define him?
What of his love of family-does that describe him? Does his coaching of several sports? Or his willingness to be dunked in a water-tank during a school play day? What of his admiration and knowledge for science-is that what Clif Titus was? Or does his intellect satisfy the need for an accurate description?
For many years as a teacher I taught under Clif the able administrator, and for a brief time I was fortunate enough to be his assistant when he was Headmaster of Saint Stephen’s School. Since our offices were separated by just a few feet during that time, we were always near each other either literally or figuratively. That brief time was a privilege for me because of Clif, a gentle man whose waters ran deep, who was gracious to all, and who believed that he could teach any student his great academic love-mathematics.
Clif was a great supervisor because he did what all good ones do—explain what needs to be done and then step back, out of the way, as the work gets done. Now, I made some boneheaded mistakes, but Clif just continued to encourage me during those tumultuous times, and his gentle, guiding manner made me feel capable of and desiring to do better. I wasn’t aware of it at the time, but I was simply another one of his students, just one with an office next to his.
Because Clif identified as a teacher before any other role, he taught a class even with all his duties as Headmaster. One day he walked into our offices after his class and said to me, “I gave my class a test and the boys didn’t do well. So, I told them that I was tossing their tests, and we were starting over. They can do better, so we’ll cover that material again and then they will take a new test.” With that he tossed the bundled tests into the trash can and walked into his office. Clif Titus refused to believe that he couldn’t teach any student any subject he chose. It wasn’t arrogance of Clif’s but faith in his training, wisdom, and ability to explain the most complex aspects of mathematics to even the most reluctant student. He was the teacher who went to where his students were and then brought them forward.
During his thirty-six years serving our school, Clif filled many roles. Every one, from junior varsity football coach to Headmaster, was done with a grace and strength and love for learning that defines Clif. We, his colleagues and students, are better for having shared those years with him.