When I was a kid, our influencers were people we knew. We didn’t just see them on a video, we saw them in real life. Not to say that there weren’t celebrities that we admired, but the people we tended to emulate were those whom we had regular interactions with. That included teachers, and maybe that one special school principal.


“You can remember the difference between principle and principal, because one is your ‘pal.’” That was one of the mnemonic devices I learned while attending Grove Elementary. It might not have stuck with me if Yvonne Ellie had not been the principal. She really was a pal to all of us kids.


When she decided to accept a position at another school, some of the teachers organized a program that we performed on her final day at Grove. My class had learned the words to Carol Burnett’s theme song, and we were told about the meaning of the ear tug that Carol Burnett closed her show with. We sang the song, and because I was a bit of a ham, I even included that ear tug. It gave Ms. Ellie a good laugh.


As an adult, I have come to know many of my former teachers as friends. I often volunteered for area organizations that they too volunteered for. In some ways, I have so much more in common with them than many people my own age. When I last saw Yvonne, I was at a meeting of a subcommittee of Clean Green Action that was being held at her house. Yvonne wanted to be involved in volunteer efforts, but had limited mobility, so she found ways to volunteer from home.


When I became so sick that I could no longer work, or be involved in civic organizations in ways I had been before, I started to think a lot about Yvonne and how she would find ways to help out despite her physical limitations. If I hadn’t learned from her example, I would have a lot more difficulty coping with my disability. I never stopped learning from Yvonne. She has been an inspiration to me in so many ways.


I learned this morning that she had passed away yesterday. While I am deeply saddened by this news, I know that she lived a full life, and lived with purpose. She was a bright spark who gave light to so many. My condolences go out to everyone mourning her loss. I feel so blessed to have known her, as I am sure many others do.


That’s why I’m glad we had this time together,

‘Cause it makes me feel like I belong.

Seems we just got started and before you know it

Comes the time we have to say, “So long.”

-Joe Hamilton, Carol Burnett theme song