Kansas lost a great man recently. Reading the obituary of Judge Terry Bullock was enlightening to me, because I only knew him as a strong, fair minded, kind and thoughtful advocate for the constitution of Kansas. His obituary reveals more depth. Seeing him in his courtroom trappings one wouldn’t know he had a family, loved music, and cared about his community.
I intended this remembrance to be about how Judge Bullock’s decisions affected the direction of Kansas education. How he was able to sort through the chaff with a brilliant legal mind, and express those decisions with statements like, “Money doesn’t matter? That dog won’t hunt in Dodge City.”
But as I read the obituary, I couldn’t help but think this is what we want for all Kansas kids. Born and raised in Wilsey, Kansas, he was educated in Kansas schools and epitomizes the outcomes delineated in the Kansans Can outcomes. If we want a true measure of the success of Kansas schools, an obituary like Terry Bullock’s would be evidence of success. The Judge’s life showed evidence of academic, cognitive and employability skills, and also civic engagement. He was also a man who understood social and emotional issues, which is why I mentioned “kind” in my original description.
About 15 years ago as the Montoy case was winding its way through the system, a trial occurred in Judge Bullock’s court. At the time I was a superintendent and was called upon to testify at trial. To the surprise of some, I had never seen the inside of a courtroom and it was an anxiety inducing experience.
I recall distinctly it was a fall day and I wore a new grey flannel suit. Judge Bullock was a looming figure, his desk seemed 50 feet above the witness stand. His sterling reputation was at least as big as his desk, filling the courtroom. It was an intimidating experience.
I was called to the stand in that fourth-floor courtroom a few minutes before lunch and gave some preliminary information before we broke for lunch. During lunch, nerves took over and I thought a walk around the block might help. The temperature had climbed into the 80’s by then, one of those sunny Fall Kansas days. Flannel, a brisk walk, and a pudgy guy combined for a predictable result. I began to heat up. Coming back in to the building the clock showed it was five minutes until court was in order again, and the lobby was full. The line for the elevators was long, I had to take the stairs to the fourth floor. Now I began to sweat.
Have you ever started to sweat and then become conscious of it and tried to will yourself to stop? The attorney for the State Board of Education was Dan Biles, who now serves on the Kansas Supreme Court. He is very good at his job. He asked harder and harder questions. The sweat went from glisten to flop. Soon, I looked like I had run through the sprinklers. It was then that Judge Bullock stopped the questioning in a case that would decide the future of Kansas education, leaned forward, and in a perfectly enunciated low formal voice, quietly asked, “Mr. Heim, would you like to remove your jacket?” In my head, I said, “I’d like to remove myself and run for my life.” But I said, “Thank you, sir” and happily removed the flannel suit coat.
Of what was one of the most dismal days of my professional life, that is what I remember. A thoughtful act from a kind gentleman. One small piece of evidence of a life well lived.