PENINSULA PROFILE: Port Townsend teacher’s book still inspires 10 years later
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Richard Glaubman, author and Blue Heron Middle School teacher, found in centenarian George Dawson a story he had to tell. -- Photo by Diane Urbani de la Paz/Peninsula Daily News

By Diane Urbani de la Paz
Peninsula Daily News

Juneteenth



By Diane Urbani de la Paz

Peninsula Daily News



PORT TOWNSEND — Since he was a boy in Eggertsville, N.Y., just outside Buffalo, Richard Glaubman has traveled not only across the United States but also across time.

He went to Occidental College near Los Angeles and then the University of California at Berkeley.

He worked in restaurants and construction, fished commercially in Alaska and planted trees in British Columbia, all before becoming a teacher at Mountain View Elementary School in Port Townsend.

That school has closed; Glaubman now teaches P.E. at Blue Heron Middle School. Summer vacation started this past Friday, and Glaubman finished his 29th year as an educator.

In the midst of his career, though, Glaubman got an education of another sort. A series of serendipitous events led to him writing the life story of George Dawson, the grandson of slaves, born in Marshall, Texas, in 1898.

Glaubman visited the adult education center where Dawson had learned to read — at age 98. There, the teacher learned some more about the past and present.

Juneteenth is a big deal in Texas, for example.

Juneteenth is June 19, the date when word of President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation reached the slaves working in the Lone Star State.

The news arrived in June 1865, nearly three years after Lincoln’s Sept. 22, 1862, proclamation.

Dawson’s teacher, Carl Henry, told Glaubman about Juneteenth. And Dawson, at age 101, recounted the story of how his grandmothers, working on a cotton plantation, lived to see freedom day.

“Master Lester didn’t look too happy,” his Grandma Charity recalled. “His voice had lost its strength.”

He did say, however, that “under terms of our defeat, according to President Lincoln, slavery is abolished. You are free.”

Charity and her mother, Dawson’s great-grandmother Sylvie, still had to work on that farm. Master Lester claimed they owed him. So they worked for wages until their “debt” was paid off, and moved on to Marshall, where freed slaves were given 40 acres and a mule.

Charity’s son Harrison grew up on that homestead, and then raised a family of five children. George Dawson was the eldest.

Dawson lived to 103, and with Glaubman coauthored Life Is So Good, a memoir that has just been re-released as a Random House Readers Circle paperback.

Before he died on July 5, 2001, Dawson got to meet Glaubman’s family: His wife Jody, their son Casey and their daughter Jessie. He didn’t miss the opportunity to utter some words to live by.

“Respect your mother and father,” he told Casey, then 15.

“There’ll be friends trying to lead you wrong, but if they do that, they ain’t no friends. You do the right thing.”

Today, Glaubman is happy to report, his son is a mountain climber — he recently summited Mount Rainier and Denali is next — and works at BackCountry.com in Salt Lake City. His daughter is an elementary school teacher in Redmond.
By Diane Urbani de la Paz

Peninsula Daily News

PORT TOWNSEND — Richard Glaubman’s father, Louis Glaubman, lay in a hospital bed in his living room. His hospice doctor had told him he had only a few weeks to go.

So father and son had a conversation, a few words that led to a long, rewarding quest.

“Are you writing anymore?” Louis asked.

It’s hard to find the time, answered his son, then a teacher at Port Townsend’s Mountain View Elementary School.

Maybe some day I’ll start again.

“You have a gift,” Louis said.

And when the time is right to begin again, you’ll know.

Three weeks later, Richard Glaubman got on a plane bound for Texas, to enter a different world: the south Dallas ghetto, where he would meet centenarian George Dawson.

Dawson was the grandson of slaves, a man who had worked on farms, tamed horses, ridden the rails, helped build a levee and a railroad line — but didn’t read or write until he was 98 years old.

Glaubman and his wife, Jody, happened to read a newspaper article one morning about Dawson, who proudly celebrated his 100th birthday while a student at a south Dallas adult education center.

Glaubman couldn’t put Dawson’s story out of his mind. His father had planted a new seed, and the old man in Dallas had watered it.

So to Texas Glaubman went, after making arrangements to meet Dawson along with his teacher, Carl Henry.



Things didn’t go well at first. Dawson answered Glaubman’s questions, but briefly and formally.

Though engulfed in doubt, Glaubman persevered.

He spent time with Dawson at school and at his ramshackle house, and through many more visits the two men — one who read at a third-grade level, the other a graduate of the University of California at Berkeley — became friends.

Glaubman and Dawson coauthored Life Is So Good, the story of a man who saw three centuries.

Born in 1898, Dawson grew up in Marshall, Texas, then traveled across the South, where he experienced bitter racism and poverty.

Through it all he holds his head up. Dawson was a man whose life is defined by gratitude.

It took nearly three years for Glaubman to record, write and publish Dawson’s story. He even lived with Dawson for a period of time, tape recorder always at hand.

Glaubman considered self-publishing, but then, with the help of a literary agent, he landed a contract with Random House: a deal beyond his wildest dreams.

When the release of Life Is So Good in early 2000, the publisher sent Glaubman and Dawson on tour.

It got them booked on “Good Morning America,” “CBS Sunday Morning” and on Seattle’s television stations. The New York Times and other newspapers across the country gave the book glowing reviews.

And at age 102, Dawson flew to New York City with his coauthor for more interviews and public appearances.



Later that same year, Dawson came to the North Olympic Peninsula, where Glaubman took him up to Hurricane Ridge in Olympic National Park.

And at a dessert potluck in his honor at the Fort Worden State Park chapel, 100 fans came to shake Dawson’s hand.

Next morning, Glaubman asked how he’d liked the party.

“That was fine,” Dawson replied. “I like to be where I see folks having a good time.”

But there was something else Dawson seemed almost ready to say.

“Go ahead,” Glaubman said. “What is it?”

“You don’t have many colored people in your town,” Dawson replied.

“I never expected to live so long that it would be I could go to a party like last night,” he continued, “and just go in and be treated like any other man. . . . I had hoped that day might come.

“But I never knew if I would live long enough to see it.”

In Life Is So Good, Dawson tells of his years as a farm laborer, dairy worker, baseball player and gardener who is separated from white people: allowed to be in their world while he works, but often disrespected and dismissed as less than human.

Yet there is no bitterness in him, not when he’s a young man and not at any other time.

Instead, Dawson lives with dignity, taking pride in hard work, in caring for his family — and in going to school, at age 98, to learn to read.

In the 13 years since Life Is So Good was published, Glaubman has continued to travel the country, giving speeches at literary festivals and community-read events from Oregon to Connecticut.

He’s given talks at schools in Nashville, Tenn., Somerville, N.J., Georgia’s Marietta High School, the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in New London, Conn., and at George Dawson Middle School in Southlake, Texas.



Then, this spring, Life Is So Good was chosen as Port Townsend’s Teen Community Read.

Port Townsend High School students received copies of the book, as did students at Blue Heron Middle School, where Glaubman teaches physical education.

In a short talk in Melinda Schroeder’s classroom at Blue Heron, Glaubman showed the students the thick manuscript, in a manila folder, that he had shipped off to Random House all those years ago.

He talked about rising at 5 a.m. to write for a few hours before school started. He recalled how once he’d wanted to be a journalist, but had chosen teaching instead because he didn’t care for newspaper deadlines.

Writing this story, though, Glaubman had a deadline of another kind: Dawson’s life.

Realizing one of his fondest hopes, Glaubman overnight-mailed Dawson the first hardcover copy of Life Is So Good, straight from the publisher, in time to arrive on his 102nd birthday: Jan. 19, 2000.

Today there are 300,000 copies in print, Glaubman reported. The book has been translated into Chinese, Japanese, French, Spanish, Korean and Croatian.

Royalties helped Dawson move in to a new house — still in his Dallas neighborhood — and helped fund college educations for Glaubman’s now-grown children, Casey and Jessie.

Last month, Random House released a new edition of Life Is So Good, with an essay and discussion questions added by Glaubman.

After hearing his talk on the book at Blue Heron, one student asked whether he’d write another. Turns out he’s working on a historical novel set partly in Port Townsend.

In fact Glaubman has authored and self-published a kind of sequel to Life Is So Good, available on his website, www.richardglaubman.com.

More than a Book: A Story of Friendship is a look behind the scenes of the interviewing, writing and publishing process — but more important, it is the story of how he and Dawson grew to trust each other.



Dawson died July 5, 2001, at age 103, of age-related causes. But his legacy is a vibrant one.

Enrollment at the south Dallas adult education center doubled, as people of various ages learned of Dawson’s attendance there. Other schools, community groups and individuals still write to Glaubman, having just discovered Dawson’s story.

Life Is So Good “is like lightning in a bottle,” Glaubman said.

“If I only was only going to have one book out there, I’d want it to be this one.”

________

Features Editor Diane Urbani de la Paz can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5062, or at diane.urbani@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: June 15. 2013 6:17PM
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