Kim Mathews and I had much in common: Both our fathers were Maine school superintendents, we both majored in English at small Maine liberal arts colleges – he at Bates and I at Colby – and, in the early 1980s, we were both teaching at Gray-New Gloucester High School. But we did not share this: He drove a van adapted for use by someone in a wheelchair.

Peter Vose, above, describes his friend and colleague Kim Mathews as as someone who “lived life joyfully. He renovated an old farmhouse where he frequently hosted lively parties (and) traveled to Jamaica most winters.” Photo courtesy of Peter Vose

Kim became a paraplegic in August 1975 when he hit his head while diving into a lake. I later learned that he had been about to begin a teaching job at Orono High School, where he would have replaced my sister, who was leaving for graduate school.

He spent months learning to live with vastly reduced mobility. He had been a star basketball player at Mount Desert High School; now he struggled to get into and out of bed. When he returned to Maine he worked for Alpha One, a nonprofit advocating for disabled people. He returned to teaching in the Bangor area, then found a job at Gray-New Gloucester High School, where I was then teaching.

Kim did not bemoan his fate, but I gradually learned about the obstacles ordinary life presented for someone in a wheelchair. Kim had to rise at 4:30 each morning to be in school on time. Since he could not manually clear his van’s windows, he had to let the van warm to melt any ice that formed. The brace he wore to enable him to write was uncomfortable, but he wrote copious comments on student essays. And, despite these challenges, there were years when Kim had perfect attendance. Whenever I began to hear strings playing songs of self-pity, I remembered all of the obstacles Kim faced daily, and whatever minor burdens weighed me down seemed trivial.

Despite the grim circumstances that led to his paraplegia, Kim lived life joyfully. He renovated an old farmhouse where he frequently hosted lively parties. He traveled to Jamaica most winters. An avid Celtics and Red Sox fan, he followed those teams, and he and I made trips to see both teams play.

Students at GNG High School asked him to speak at graduation one year, and he said this: “My hope is that you will remember me not because I use a wheelchair, but because I have taught you the value of hard work and commitment. When adversity strikes in your lives, persevere.”

Kim died too soon, at the age of 66, but his life showed all who knew him how to live when one’s plans, in Robert Burns’ words, “Gang aft agley,/ An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,/ For promis’d joy!”

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