Editorial: My Mr. Cromie Story

By Christopher Lotito

The truth is, Mr. Cromie and I had fallen out of touch.  I had spoken to him maybe once or twice at a public event since High School and the conversations were brief.  So I, like many, was shocked to hear of Willie's passing, when I had only just recently heard of his illness.  There are so many wonderful stories about this amazing mentor going around, from the vast number of students whose lives he touched, across multiple generations.  I did not go on to a career in music or music education, I would not have called he and I close after High School, and it's likely that my story about Willie Cromie is not of much note to most people reading, but I think it is typical Willie and I can tell you it's still a special story to me:

As a teenager I was not one of the "cool kids", but I was often admired.  It's a strange thing to say.  I did not relate much  with people my own age, but English, History, and the Sciences came easily to me as I was a voracious reader with a love of knowledge and extensive vocabulary.  If it is possible to sum up one's teenage years briefly, and I'm not sure it is, all I can say is that I spoke my mind and it impressed people, I had a great grasp of academics and that impressed people, but my best relationships tended to be with teachers who had the knowledge and interest to discuss the topics that I found interesting and which the average teenager did not.

My freshman year was especially difficult.  This was a time when bullying was not widely recognized and when the resources for harassed students were far less abundant than they are today.  One of the few things that made a big difference during that time were the staff and faculty at Pequannock High School and one of the individuals key in shaping my own experience was Mr. Cromie.

I first met Mr. Cromie (or "Cromie" or "Willie") through his role with the marching band.  He always gave encouragement and a kind word.    Across the field, across the hall, or across the street, he would catch your eye and he was always ready with a smile.  In the Winter, marching band ended and I wasn't in choir, but I was lucky enough to work with Willie again during the school musicals.  I enjoyed the theater, the energy, the camaraderie, but I was never much for getting out on stage and singing; Cromie and those like him always made sure there was a place for students like me, building sets, running the light-board, operating the follow-spot.  I remember when we did the Wizard of Oz and I volunteered to make an hourglass prop big enough to be seen at the back of the auditorium.  It was a beautiful composition of door trim, gallon bottles, red craft sand, and gold paint... some 3 feet tall in fact.  I was quite proud of it.  Willie had a way with words, but his comment here was short, "Well, they'll see THAT from the back!"  I don't think I could have received a bigger compliment.  Willie recognized where people's talents were and he respected it.

So here we are and I find myself a little in awe of the amazing outpouring of sympathy and memories that have followed Willie's death.  In awe perhaps, but hardly surprised, because I know how he touched my life.  Too, I find myself pulled in two directions: on the one is Willie's passing, as tragic, sad, and mournful as it is.  In the other direction, a strange juxtaposition: 10:30 AM Saturday morning as many will be in Clifton saying goodbye to Willie, I will be in Pequannock's downtown with a number of other volunteers (some of them Willie's alums), participating in Paint the Town Purple to prepare for the Relay for Life cancer-walk which is a little over a month away.

A funeral for another life lost to cancer and an event for hope, the same community, the same day... I can't help but think Willie will be with us still, in spirit, yes, but too in the hands that raise banners in his memory, in the strike of shoes hitting the track in defiance of cancer next month, and in the hearts of each of us that carries on without him.

~Christopher Lotito

Christopher Lotito is a member of the Pequannock Historic District, Open Space, and Flood Control Advisory Commissions as well as the author of  "Torrent," a book about flooding in the region.  Lotito's personal mission is to reduce new taxes, drastically reduce flooding, and preserve more green spaces for our children.  Christopher Lotito Profile

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