Living To Make A Difference

I was over 40 the first time something I wrote was published. The first thing I did was send an email to my high-school English teacher, Kathi Condell.

Ms. Condell — that's how I continue to think of her, even after she married again and demanded that I call her Kathi — taught several of my literature and writing classes. That was 30 years ago now. Her lessons remain. I remember them when I think about what I read and when I consider how and what to write.

Kathi Condell had a gift for connecting with teens. She was supportive without being indulgent, and age-appropriate without being condescending. She had high expectations, and conveyed a quiet confidence that those expectations were reasonable and achievable.

More than that, she taught literature and writing not as means, but as ends. Everyone knew you had to write well and get good grades to get into a good college, and get a good job, and so forth. Everyone understood the grind, particularly at a school like mine. But Kathi Condell believed we should be well-read because we loved reading, that we should reflect on what we read because it was meaningful and pleasurable, and that we should treat writing as a form of artistic expression, not merely a tool. She helped teach me that writing could be useful and expressive at the same time.

I wanted to be a lawyer from a very young age. She was always respectful of that goal, but always encouraged me to think about writing as an art whatever I did as a job. As I graduated college, and law school, and moved from job to job, she congratulated me but always asked me "but what are you doing to write?" For many years I wasn't doing much. That's why it felt so good to tell her that I was making an effort to write for writing's sake. I wanted her to know that she'd been right, and that I remembered.

Kathi Condell Herroon passed away Monday. I love to write, and that's because of two people — Kathi Condell, and my father. Thank you.

What if we could all live so that thirty years down the road, people we've touched want to share news with us about what we've helped them achieve?

Last 5 posts by Ken White


  1. Scott Jacobs says

    I remember them when I think about what I read and when I consider how and what to write.

    She inspired the man who wrote "snort my taint." How could she not be but proud?

    We've all had that one teacher that connected with us, be it in a subject we usually disliked, or one that we liked anyways…

    It's the ones that managed to make us love something that other made us think was dull that are the most special.

  2. Niall says

    My condolences.

    Writing well, clearly, and non-concisely while remaining interesting IS an art, no matter the subject – though law is a subject that raises the bar* on the difficulty level. I have learned a lot both about law, and about how to think about law, while being entertained on this site. Thank you.

    (* there are some things I have immense trouble resisting, and an appropriate pun is one of them.)

  3. Fasolt says


    I had an English teacher with the same traits as Ms. Condell. He also shared her ideas on writing. Like you, I still remember those lessons. I had the good fortune to meet him years later and had a chance to shake his hand and thank him for those lessons.

  4. Robert Hopkins says

    Mr. White, thank you for the eulogy to Ms. Condell, your English teacher. It gave me pause to remember those who made me think and encouraged me to be the lawyer I became. Thank you Mr. Cohen. Thank you mother.

  5. En Passant says

    What if we could all live so that thirty years down the road, people we've touched want to share news with us about what we've helped them achieve?

    Thank you for doing your father and Ms. Condell proud.

    If we all even asked ourselves that question once a day, the world would be a better place for everyone.

  6. Andrew says

    Thanks for sharing this, Ken. I had a couple of high school English teachers who had a similar impact on my love of language and literature. I didn't have a pleasure of knowing Ms. Condell, but I think she would be very proud of the writer you've become.

  7. Docrailgun says

    Yes, thanks for sharing this. It's very touching, you celebrating that life that touched you so.
    Sadly, I think you'll get crap for doing so.

  8. OrderoftheQuaff says

    We've all had a small handful of special, dedicated teachers in grade school. Unfortunately, the majority of mine were just ticket-punchers, and several of them were malicious ticket-punchers.

    My best English teacher was in the ninth grade, and over 90% of the rest of the class hated her because she was a strict old bat, but I thought she was terrific. There was a stupid fat kid who amused himself in class by trying to antagonize me. One day she ran up to him and hollered "You're just like an astronaut! All you do is take up space!"

    Another time, I had somehow gotten ahold of a Playboy at lunch, so I scotch-taped the centerfold to the front of her podium before class. She came in from the side and stood at the podium facing an ocean of uncharacteristically loud tittering. She went around to the front, tore it off, looked at me and said "This smacks of [my last name]." How did she guess? I still got an A.

    Not published until 40+? You're a late bloomer. I have a good record of getting my letters to the editor published in newspapers, including the LA Times, going back to my mid-teens.

  9. says

    An English teacher at my ghetto high school was the first person in my life who asked me, at the outset of 12th grade, whether I was planning to go to college. His nudging and prompting opened up a world and possibilities that had never been considered or mentioned in my family. He pushed me– to sources, to the OED, to revision. He was one of the good ones, and later I had the pleasure of telling him so.

    It's lovely that there are many good ones, and it's tragic that there aren't more.

  10. albert says

    Your post reminded me of my favorite HS teacher, Miss G. She taught World Literature and Advanced Composition. She was tough (automatic E on your final paper for spelling or punctuation errors). She treated us like adults (Mr. Jones, Miss Smith). She was smart and inspirational. She was young, but experienced, fun, and had a great sense of humor. Everyone looked forward to her class; it was the high point of the day. We learned a lot, and had fun doing it.
    I hope every kid has at least one really great teacher, I certainly did. It sounds like you did, too. They are worth their weight in gold.

  11. George William Herbert says

    I never had one teacher in english stand out like that but a long succession who encouraged. I guess the High School Paper's staff sponsor, Mr. Rosenberg, did the most on the writing front, but it was more keeping us writing (and editing and doing the #@$# logistics on the paper). I was already writing pretty hard by then…

  12. JoeT says

    Kathi nee Ms. Condell seems like an inspiring teacher. Although it is easy to make fun of humanities fields as being "useless", it is in those fields we find the teachers that instruct us in being effective in communication, and finding our voice.

    Of course, you found a voice that comes up with words like twatwaffle…

  13. says

    I am sorry for your loss and appreciate your expressing appreciation for Ms. Condell!

    I had a memorable English teacher too, Mrs. Cummings, 7th grade, Memorial Jr. High School, South Euclid-Lyndhurst Schools in Ohio. She was old back in the early 1970's. She had stacks and stacks of Reader's Digests and we had to give oral reports on the Book Section of our choice each grading period. I chose one about brain surgery from the patient's point of view. I remember that even boys in the class were saying, "Ewww!" I remember feeling proud that I could maintain my composure while describing something that grossed out boys. I got an A and for a little while, I wanted to be a brain surgeon. Mrs. Cummings had a reputation for being tough, but she was an excellent teacher. Those were the last days of dress codes and she was known for sending boys to the office for no belt and girls for short skirts. What can be said for that? She was old.

  14. says

    Hat's off to this kind of genius humor: "smelly, basement-dwelling aspie neckbeards" – I would love to be the teacher who inspired that kind of writing.

  15. Neto says

    Long time lurker (probably since the oatmeal dispute).

    I just wanted to say thanks to both of you, teacher and student, for making this a slightly better, more informed and funnier world.

    Inspiring stuff.

  16. Mike says

    This rings true Ken, my hero was Mrs. Ivers in junior high. 9th grade English. If all teachers were that dedicated a lot of societal ills would be helped. I'm not sure if she is still around but she was the best and made me who I am far more than instructors that I had at a very expensive mid western liberal arts college in the 70's.

  17. John Galt III says

    I strayed slightly off-topic there. Your writing is awesome, but without the analytical framework and sense of humor, it wouldn't deliver as much value. Gifted writers that I've known and loved, by which I came to appreciate good writing:

    Isaac Asimov
    Ray Bradbury
    the other sci-fi greats
    Fred Reed
    Joe Bageant
    Hunter S.
    Derek Lowe
    and countless others that no longer spring to mind

    A number of gifted writers show up in the daily news compendium at NakedCapitalism. Apparently, the APA will get flayed in the weeks ahead.

    Imperial Collapse Watch
    Opening Comments to the American Psychological Association (APA) Board of Directors Counterpunch. Chuck L:
    If the Report is released on July 20th, there will be front-page articles in every major newspaper in this country and around the world on July 21st.
    The headlines will read: “Report Finds APA Leadership Colluded With Bush Administration in Support of Torture.”
    What will the subheading read: “Many named remain in leadership positions” or “APA removes tainted leadership in response to investigation”?
    This is not a PR problem. This is a survival of the Association problem. And there is no good way to get through this.

  18. Dan Stephans says

    She sounds like a special person and I can only imagine the amount of good that exists in the world today because of her.

  19. Andrei says

    Dear Mr. White
    I am by any and all definitions a "lurker" here, having never commented before and not willing to do so again – as a left-leaning 30-something from Eastern Europe I've not a stake in the matters you discuss nor a confirmation bias need in your (articulate and reasonable) political views. I read your blog quite regularly, though, drawn by the wit of your writing and your overall willingness to explore and explain matters with remarkable levelheadedness (is that a word? it should be). Writing is important, again, in these times of the "internets". IMHO, you do your teacher proud.