Column: Tragic Loss of “Artist”

Teaching Fraternity Loses an “Artist”


“There are two kinds of teachers,” the great poet Robert Frost said. “The kind that fill you with so much quail shot you can’t move, and the kind that just give you a little prod behind and you jump to the skies.”


Like many, I was fortunate to have a handful that prodded me. Miss James, Mr. Ridland, Ms. Hutchings and Mr. McFadden meant the sky to me.

Chris Prewitt

Chris Prewitt


And not to me alone, for as Andy Rooney observed: “Teachers have thousands of people who remember them for the rest of their lives.”


            That figure seems on the low side for Chris Prewitt.


Indeed, he seems to have gently prodded so many earthbound young people to jump for the skies during his far-too-brief teaching career that a memorial service this morning at 10 a.m. is being held in the Buena High School football stadium.


            Prewitt was tragically killed at age 38 last Sunday morning when he was hit by a car during a 16-mile run training for a marathon. The driver, 23-year-old Shante Chappell, is accused of the heinous crime of driving under the influence of drugs.


Making the senseless heartbreak further unbearable is that Prewitt leaves behind his wife, Erin, and 7-year-old daughter, Isabella, with a road of missed milestones laying ahead – from elementary school plays to proms to graduations and marriage and more.


(People interested can contribute to a college fund for Isabella at and search for “Chris Prewitt.”)


It doesn’t happen often, but sometimes you hear or read about a person and you not only wish you knew them – you feel at a loss because you don’t. Or didn’t. This is how I feel about Prewitt.


In a way, however, I feel like I did know this remarkable man because the outpouring of heartfelt words reminds me of how widely beloved one of my own favorite teachers was, the late Harold McFadden.


            Moreover, that Prewitt made such a profound impression on a number of people I know and revere – such as Trudy Tuttle Arriaga and Joe Vaughan – makes his loss resonate deeper.


Arriaga, superintendant of the Ventura Unified School District, told The Star: “He had a unique way of spreading his love of life.”


That passion spread to Emily Park, Foothill Tech’s 2013 valedictorian who now attends Wellesley College in Boston. Her most beautiful of eulogies, titled “A Recommendation For Mr. Prewitt To Enter Heaven” for, includes this line: “My dream is to have the work ethic, the positivity, the pure kindness, the leadership skills, and the effect on people that Mr. Prewitt had while he was living.”


Without question, Mr. Prewitt prodded Emily to jump for the skies.


“One looks back with appreciation to the brilliant teachers, but with gratitude to those who touched our human feelings,” Carl Jung wrote. “The curriculum is so much necessary raw material, but warmth is the vital element for the growing plant and for the soul of the child.”


It has become far too fashionable to blame teachers for the shortcomings in our educational system. While Prewitt was by all accounts exceptional, he still was not the exception. I guarantee you DeAnza Academy of Technology and Arts, where Prewitt was the assistant principal, has other brilliant teachers. Same for Foothill Tech, where Prewitt taught previously; and Buena High, where he coached water polo.


And every other school in Ventura County.


Because of one driver who didn’t belong on the road future classrooms will be diminished by not experiencing Prewitt’s vital warmth. This diminishes the future for all of us.


 “I have come to believe that a great teacher is a great artist and that there are as few as there are any other great artists,” the word artist John Steinbeck said. “Teaching might even be the greatest of the arts since the medium is the human mind and spirit.”


We have lost a great artist.


Chris Prewitt’s work, however, will live on in his former students – surely some who will become teachers and great “artists” themselves giving their students a little prod to jump for the skies.




Woody Woodburn writes a weekly column for The Ventura County Star and can be contacted at


Check out my new memoir WOODEN & ME: Life Lessons from My Two-Decade Friendship with the Legendary Coach and Humanitarian to Help “Make Each Day Your Masterpiece”