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When you receive good news you always have a list of family and friends you want to call to share the moment. When Roeper School Board Chair, Steve Milbeck called me last winter to offer me the position of Head of School all I could think about was that I wanted to speak with and visit Annemarie Roeper. We had talked during the search process, and calling her to share my excitement seemed so natural.
I can remember that first call, and her immediate warmth; she had read my vita and was eager to talk about progressive education, my knowledge of Freud, and most importantly my understanding of child development. She did her homework and was eager to engage. I loved talking with her; we covered neuroscience and all that we still didn’t know about the brain. We talked about what it means to be gifted and how a depth of empathy is a real part of what it means to be gifted. I have always been drawn to people who value curiosity, and I’ve never met anyone who embodied the spirit of inquiry more than Annemarie.
Annemarie was always very direct with me, “I’m 93 and I have cancer, I don’t know how much time I have.” As we talked I told her that I was looking to her for a partnership, I wanted to spend as much time as I could talking, learning, studying, and helping to guide the path The Roeper School will travel in the coming years.
I am so grateful to have been able to visit with Annemarie on two occasions, and to speak with her by phone over the past few months. I have enjoyed learning about her history, traveling with her back through time to Germany, talking about the sub-conscious, the emotional life of children, and the evolution of her educational philosophy. While she had been physically frail during my visits, she maintained an intellectual curiosity and a willingness to share ideas with me that I will treasure. There were moments in our talks when you could see a sparkle in her eye, she would stop, look at you with a broad smile, and knowingly talk about a memory from her childhood life at Marienau.
My wife Elane teased her as we left last December saying, "You have stolen my husband's heart." I must admit there is truth in Elane's words. Annemarie’s smile, her stories, and her passion for working with children filled my heart. It is so rare to find someone with such a deep and powerful sense of purpose. Her life’s work was an active and strong response to Nazi oppression, and we are the beneficiaries of hers and George’s tenacity.
Annemarie and I talked a lot about our family histories. During one conversation she shared that a family friend named Dr. Feldman delivered her. I smiled and told her that my grandmother's family is originally from Hamburg. We started trying to trace our family trees. While I doubt there is any relation, my German Jewish roots connected with her memories of Germany. Her smile went right to my heart and we felt a kinship in our discussion of family.
In my last conversation with her Annemarie told me, "I wrote a book about death and dying, so what do I do next?" I told her that I was still counting on her partnership and counsel as I moved into my new position. As I told a friend, whether it is by phone, in person, or in my heart, Annemarie Roeper’s counsel will be part of my being as head of school.
David H. FeldmanThe Roeper SchoolHead of School Elect