Hundreds crammed a Midwood street on Thursday to witness the renaming of East 17th
Street and Avenue L as “Saul Bruckner Way,” in memory of the beloved founding principal of Edward R. Murrow High School.
The uncontained crowd, not only wanting to be a part of Brooklyn history, but to witness the hopes of thousands come to fruition, sprawled as far out as Bay Street and Chestnut Avenue near Avenue M to listen to current and former teachers and administrators, as well as area politicians, pay tribute to the educational visionary, whom Borough President Marty Markowitz called “The last of the educational Mohicans.”
At his similarly overflowing funeral last year at Marine Park’s Parkside Memorial Chapels, there was not a dry eye to be found as teachers, students and former colleagues wept openly as they fondly remembered their principal and friend as a man who quietly inspired them to do great things.
In a moving eulogy, former Assistant Vice Principal Ronald Weiss, whom students over the course of two decades at the school recall as bearing the recognizable voice who led them in the daily “Pledge of Allegiance,” said that Bruckner was “the wisest man I’ve ever known,” and teacher Katherine Schulten wrote in a loving tribute to her former boss after she returned home from the memorial service, that “we should all try to live our lives so that there are lines of people begging to speak at our funerals.”
One of the attendees, Assemblyman Steven Cymbrowitz, shared with the overflowing crowd how he, as a brand new assemblyman more than a decade ago, first met Bruckner. Chatting with the principal in his office, Cymbrowitz remembered that after a student came into the office soon afterward, Bruckner gave the youngster his undivided attention — signaling to the freshman assemblyman who Bruckner considered the more important person in the room.
Cymbrowitz went on to state, “The school’s namesake was an icon in journalism, and its founding principal was an icon in the educational world,” although Bruckner may also have been best described by former student Hillary Miller, who, on the site cac.ophony, wrote:
Mr. Bruckner himself came across as a pretty subdued, non-controversial guy. You’d imagine that a principal who allowed students freedom of choice in their academic pursuits, outlawed bells and hall sweeps and detention and sports teams, gave students the benefit of the doubt when it came to unstructured time, and fiercely defended music and arts programs might be more of a hippie crusader in moccasins than a buttoned-up older gentleman in neat tweed suit jackets. Not so.
Still, those are the facts. When the Times published a short article about his memorial service, I started honing in on what I found so unique about Mr. Bruckner. The photo that accompanied the article did it; Mr. Bruckner, with his arms folded, his red name tag jutting out from his jacket, listening intently to three students surrounding him, all of whom look like they’ve got more than one bone to pick with the guy. That was his usual posture — arms crossed, ears open, completely committed — and it wasn’t rare for Mr. Bruckner to be outnumbered. I stood in front of him this way many times, standing with my friends and shooting off at the mouth about something or other, while Mr. Bruckner stood stock-still and listened — sometimes with a bemused smile, sometimes with a look of mild judgment. Perhaps the man closed the door to his oblong office (where he also taught his 7:30am AP American History course) and privately screamed into a rattan pillow — if he did, we never caught on.
After Bruckner, 76, died on May 1, 2010, of a sudden heart attack in the swimming pool of his Mill Basin home, those who knew him were moved to create Facebook pages in his memory, and as a place where they could reminisce on their former principal — how he helped them, or knew their names (a very big deal in a sea of 4,000-plus students), or how, in my case, he used to personally escort me to class if he found me cutting in the Music Hall, or the area between rooms 210 and 240, or on the desolate fourth floor… and he always did find me.
It was on the pages of these Facebook groups that the idea sprang forth to have the street, which the school that he founded sits on, named after him. One thing led to another, and finally, on September 2, 2010, roughly four months after he died, an official request for a street renaming East 17th
Street and Avenue L “Saul Bruckner Way” made its way onto the agenda of Community Board 14’s public session.
To date, there are three pages — “R.I.P Saul Bruckner,” “Remembering Saul Bruckner,” and “RENAME THE BLOCK FRONTING 1600 AVENUE L ‘SAUL BRUCKNER PLACE’” — with combined membership and Facebook “Likes” amounting to nearly 5,000 people.
In addition to the street renaming, Markowitz presented Bruckner’s widow Ellen, clearly moved by the outpouring of love for her late husband, with a proclamation, and in a very emotional moment during the day’s celebrations, former administrator Matt Kaufman introduced senior Man La, who helped reveal an oil painting she created of Bruckner, which will hang permanently in the school.
Amidst all the ceremonial pomp, one person speaking at the microphone, whose name slipped past me undocumented, quietly said to Mrs. Bruckner, “Thank you for sharing him with us,” words which probably best summed up how every single person who was there, and who ever knew Mr. Bruckner, felt that day.