Just taking a moment out of our busy battle to save public education to remember Mario Cuomo. When I was a young teacher, Governor Mario Cuomo came to Jamaica High School to be the key note speaker at graduation. Retired Jamaica Counselor-Teacher-Graduate Ira Lipton tells the story of how it happened in this tribute to Cuomo and a man named Joe Austin.
A note on the passing of Mario Cuomo.
As a student attending Jamaica High School, I always watched this man cleaning the baseball field. I never made anything of this, until after many years later as a teacher at Jamaica High School, still watching the same man cleaning the same field. Finally I spoke to the man whose name was Joe Austin.
He told me he was an old baseball coach who lived in a small apartment near the school, and felt responsible for keeping the place clean. I asked about his life and he told me he had dropped out of Jamaica High School in the 1920s to help support his family. He also told me that Mario Cuomo was one of his best players. I thought it would be a great idea to honor this man by giving him an honorary diploma.
I spoke to the Principal Bob Consigli who agreed. We called up the Governor's office and asked if it was possible for Governor Cuomo to give Austin his diploma. Immediately he returned the phone call and Governor Cuomo asked if he could be the key note speaker at graduation. Governor Cuomo delivered a great key note address and gave Joe Austin his diploma.
Years later there was still Joe Austin cleaning our baseball field. I asked how he was doing and with a smile of an old man he said great. He then said Governor Cuomo would always send a limo, pick him up and bring him to Albany for inaugurations and other events. Joe lived to his 90s and passed away in 1998. Governor Cuomo never forgot his old coach. He was even a better man privately than he was publicly.