Blogs > Jim Collins' Editor's Notebook

Jim Collins is editor emeritus of The News-Herald and also serves as executive in residence at Lakeland Community College. His popular weekly column appears each Sunday in Comment in The News-Herald.

Friday, April 1, 2011

We all owe a grand lady our gratitude for her works

Some people — I should say a few people — make such an impression when you first meet them that you are certain they are going to achieve greatness as human beings.

They are part and parcel — the very fabric — of the community in which they live, and which they strive on a daily basis to make a better place for all others to enjoy.

Such a person was Millie Waterman, one of the finest citizens Mentor and Lake County have ever known, and to whom every person in the area owes a debt of gratitude for what she did to make the community not only a better place for its citizens, especially its children, but also a safer place.

The same could be said for her husband, Harry Waterman. He also left an indelible mark on the community for his multitude of good deeds and worthwhile accomplishments.

Both Millie and Harry are gone now, and Lake County is poorer for their absence.

If high school rivalries were permanent in nature, the three of us probably would not have gotten along so well all these years, because we were contemporaries, and there was zero mutual respect between Willoughby Union and Mentor high schools in those days.

Millie and Harry were classmates at Mentor and I was the Willoughby guy, all of us graduating in 1946, and I was forced to remind them on more than one occasion that in our junior year, Willoughby beat Mentor, 44-0, in football.

Both Millie and Harry were twins. I never met Harry’s twin, but Millie’s twin, Marjorie, also married a renowned citizen, the late Jack Daniels, widely known as Lake County’s official and unofficial historian. He knew more about the county and its significant events and people than anyone who ever lived.
What a family!

Millie was a nurse who fashioned a noteworthy career in the medical field, including five years as head nurse at St. Luke’s Hospital in Cleveland and 20 years with the Mentor Schools system.

Both Millie and Harry were honored as Distinguished Citizens by the Mentor Area Chamber of Commerce and both were inducted into the schools’ Hall of Fame.

From the very beginning, there was never any question where Millie’s heart was. It was with the kids. She and Harry not only did a special job of raising their own two kids, Jeff and Jennifer, but she also spent virtually every waking minute working somehow for the betterment of kids.

Her presidency of the Mentor PTA was only the beginning. She later became president of the Ohio PTA, in 1979, and then was named National PTA Commission on Education chairman and National PTA vice president for legislative activity.

She was the group’s registered lobbyist, often testifying before Congress on education matters ranging from asbestos in schools and tax reform to the labeling of offensive song lyrics on albums.

One of her kindred souls in that endeavor was Tipper Gore, wife of former Vice President Al Gore. Millie often spoke of her admiration for Mrs. Gore because of their joint interest in protecting children, making their lives better and enhancing their opportunities in education.

Harry was a major contributor in one of those efforts. After he retired from Lubrizol, he filled a leadership vacuum by taking control of Mentor Schools’ vast bus transportation system.

And before long he was struck by a troubling statistic — the number of children who were run over by their own buses because their own drivers simply did not see them.

The pair devised a system of mirrors to be installed on buses so that drivers could see the toddlers if they happened to dart in front of buses before they started in motion.

That required more testimony before Congress. With the help of their congressman — my recollection is that it was Dennis Eckart — they got passage of legislation that makes the mirrors mandatory on all buses.

Of course, there is no statistic available on how many young lives have been saved because of the installation of the mirrors, but without question it is a substantial number.

Although she has been widely honored throughout the community, and has served in more positions of responsibility and leadership than most people ever even dream of, there is one job that was denied Millie which she could have handled with ease and skill.

Permit me to give you some background. Harry was a longtime board member of Laketran, the county’s public transit system.

He was one of the best members the board ever knew. The system showed its appreciation by naming its Mentor parking lot for Laketran commuters in his honor.

It would be fair to say that, being the sort of loving and sharing couple they were, Millie knew as much about public transportation as Harry.

They discussed the subject on a daily basis. When Harry went to transit symposiums, Millie accompanied him.

Now, appointments to the Laketran board, you might say, are “political,” because members are named by the county commissioners.

I don’t know if the climate was right or the planets were aligned properly or what when Harry was first appointed, but following that his expertise became so obvious that the commissioners wouldn’t think of failing to reappoint him to a new term.

Harry died in 2005, leaving a vacancy on the board. By any fair reasoning, and with any injection of sanity and common sense, Millie should have been appointed to take his place.

I believe that was mentioned editorially in this newspaper at the time.

It was a move not without precedent.

But politics reared its ugly head. If you get caught with the wrong candidate’s sign in your yard, funny things can happen. Or so I’ve been told. I couldn’t swear to that. All I know is what I hear.

At any rate, Millie didn’t get the appointment. It probably even went to someone who was well-qualified.

But that’s not the point. It should have gone to Millie. But did she pout? Not this fine lady. She continued as one of the best volunteers the “Friends of Laketran” ever had, working tirelessly on events for the agency.

The key word in the above sentence is “volunteer,” meaning Millie didn’t get paid for her vast array of involvements. They were done through love.

And “love” is another key word. She not only loved her family, her schools and everything she did, but that love was returned by everyone who knew her.

She was a beloved lady. She will never be forgotten.


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