The world of learning lost two valued friends last week with the passing of Elin Ovick and Bruce Stuart. Known for their enthusiasm, compassion and strong ties to the Liberty Union School District (LUHSD), Stuart, 58, died suddenly on June 24 at his home in Byron, and Ovick, 60, lost her long battle with cancer on June 25.
Stuart was a retired teacher, a director of the Byron Irrigation and Sanitary District, a lover of community theater, and a philanthropist known for his work with special-needs children and troubled youth.
Hundreds of mourners gathered informally at the Stuart home last weekend, offering their memories of the professional musician and popular director of the Brentwood Concert Band.
Emil Geddes, who grew up with Stuart on Bethel Island, remembers his childhood companion as someone with a deep and abiding sense of family and friendship; a man who saved the best parts of himself for his boys Ian and Jeff, and wife Sue.
His family was his life. He loved his boys and Sue, said Geddes. What I'll miss are those spontaneous moments of conversation that you share with someone you've known for so long. He was just one of those people you looked forward to seeing and were glad when you did. It's a tragic loss for the whole community.
Family friend Annette Beckstrand said Stuart's compassion for others is one of the qualities she will remember most about him. He had a way with kids, especially the special-needs and challenged kids, of getting into their souls and making them feel as worthwhile and wonderful as they were, said Beckstrand.
I'll remember his laugh and his wisdom and I'll remember his compassion and the way he plays a trombone and tunes a piano. We'll miss him.
Ovick was the director of curriculum and instruction with the LUHSD from 1998 to 2005. During her tenure with the district, Ovick was responsible for helping create the standards and benchmarks program for the district, and the education plan at Heritage High School.
It was while working on the Heritage High plan that Ovick met friend Nancy Torres. Even after both women retired from the district a few years ago, they remained close personal friends.
Talking through tears during a phone interview this week, Torres said that she and Ovick shared a close friend ship, one that included impromptu trips to Starbucks and recipe exchanges.
We had such a comfortable friendship, one where we would call each other up and ask what we were having for dinner, or did we have any ideas of something to cook.
You know: girlfriend things. We were very, very close, and I have to say that the grace with which she managed her illness was just amazing.
LUHSD Superintendent Dan Smith said that while Ovick retired from the district a few years ago as she fought her illness, the loss of one of their own still hits hard.
Elin was not only a terrific professional educator but an even better human being, said Smith. She was sincere, honest and caring. We have all lost a friend of education and a really good human being.
Ovick leaves behind her husband Joe Contra Costa County superintendent of schools; her two sons, Jon and Bjorn; and grandchildren Poppy and Rory. It is her family of whom she was most proud, said Torres, and for whom she remains a lasting legacy.
You look at someone like Elin and her legacy really lives on in her students and children and the people she has touched, said Torres.
She and I would often talk about our children, and she was very, very proud of her boys. She would always look at me and say, Aren't we lucky?' I remember her saying that so many times. I know that I was lucky to have had her for a friend. I will miss her so much.