Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,W. H. Auden
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.
Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message He Is Dead,
Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.
He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last for ever: I was wrong.
The stars are not wanted now: put out every one;
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood.
For nothing now can ever come to any good.
We are so sad to report the passing of the remarkable Steve Orel after putting up one of the great battles against colon cancer. But no one was surprised that Steve would fight to the end. After all, he fought the Klan in Birmingham (as a Jew and civil rights worker in Birmingham, that ain't easy), the racist policies of the Birmingham Board of Education, and his most valiant fight of all - to make the WOO (World of Opportunity) a place where the poorest, most downtrodden students would get a second chance. The recipient of ACT NOW's "Courage in Education Award," that barely touches on the incredible things Steve accomplished.
It is often said about people who pass, they will be sorely missed. By the people who loved them. Or worked with them. In Steve's case, he will be missed by all of humanity. There is probably no worse time to lose someone like Steve.
In April 2006 I hitched a ride with friends Ira and Sheila Goldfine who were driving down south. We loaded up the Godfine's van with old computers, books and whatever else we could gather, as The WOO has become a center for the distribution of "stuff" to people in need. With Steve's illness looming so large, we never expected to see Steve, who I met at the ACT NOW conference organized by SusanOhanian, Juanita Doyan and others to forge a national resistance to the evils of high stakes testing and to battle against the upcoming NCLB Act. The conference was held at the WOO in March 2003 where Steve was given his Award. Steve included the entire WOO in accepting the Award.
We were on the highway looking for The WOO, when a van cut us off, the driver pointing to follow him. Hey, this is the south, and we were nervous, but we got off at the exit. A yellow paper popped out the window. In bright red letters, it said "WOO" on it. when we pulled into theWOO's driveway, out popped Steve from the car, his arm in a sling from all the crap they had been pumping into him. "You didn't think I wouldn't recognize 3 Jews from New York, did you," he said with a big smile? That was the first time Ira and Sheila had met Steve and after an hour with him talking education, politics, people, kids, etc. theimpression he made on them was as great as anyone they had ever met.
Ira, Sheila and I visited with Steve and Glenda Jo one evening a few months ago on one of their visits to Sloan Kettering here in NY and heard all the horror stories about the health care system directly from them. Michael Moore could have made "Sicko" just using their story. I consider myself very lucky to have gotten to see Steve twice in the past year or so.
The other day, when things were looking bleak, Glenda Jo, asked for final messages to be read to Steve in his final days. Knowing Steve as a man with one of the great senses of humor, I could imagine him making jokes about his situation 'till the end. So I sent a bunch of politically oriented chicken crossing the road jokes along with the message below. I hope he got to hear a few of them and smile.
While there's much to be sad about, there's so much to cheer in a life well lived. We only met a few times but I feel I've known you so well. I wish we had more time to hang out and schmooze, and, most of all, laugh. Of course, your first words to me when we met at the WOO were "Hello, what subject do you want to tutor? Here's someone to work with. See you later." No laughs there. I didn't find out about your amazing sense of humor 'till later when we went to get those peace banners from your car for the weekly anti-war vigil on a corner in downtown Birmingham, Al., as surrealist experience as I've had.
You said such kind words about what you noticed about the work I did with the student. You got me as a teacher in just a few moments. I value those words of yours as much an any praise I have received.
But enough of the serious stuff, Steve. As a man with as good a sense of humor as anyone I have met, we know that there's nothing you like better than a good laugh. And you are about the only one I know who, despite your situation, will find a laugh to be the best medicine. When Oscar Wild was in your situation he said, "Either that wallpaper goes, or I do."
And given the point we are at and the risk of doing anything in bad taste - but of course, "bad taste" are my middle names, I revert to the venerable use of the "chicken crossing the road" series, which no matter how dire the situation, I hope will bring a smile to your face. Or at least, get you to start removing that wall paper.
From Susan Ohanian:
I mourn the loss of my soul brother, friend, and great champion of young people. He started the World of Opportunity in Birmingham, Alabama to right the injustice of students terminated by the public school system. The door at the WOO is always open for students to get a second chance. . . and a third and a fifteenth, when need be.
Steve, your spirit fills the streets of Birmingham and the hearts of all who were privileged to know you.
Susan has been sending contributions to the WOO from the sale of this CD:
Order the CD of the resistance:
"No Child Left Behind? Bring Back the Joy."
To order online (and hear samples from the songs)
Other orders: Send $15 to
P. O. Box 370
Charlotte, VT 05445
Another way to assist Glenda Jo in keeping The WOO running.
Support the World of Opportunity!
Start your Amazon.com shopping at
Thanks to John Lawhead for these pics of Steve when we visited the WOO in '03