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Joyce Endee

"Who says life is fair? Where is that written?"

Community remembers Helen Rode

by Tara Giles
Sports reporter - Coos County Democrat and Berlin Reporter
September 16, 2021
WHITEFIELD — On Sept. 1 the local community far and wide lost a one of a kind soul that only comes around once in a lifetime.

If you knew Helen Rode, you know just how true this is. Mrs. Rode was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, and passed shortly after. Her son David, knowing her time was short, took to social media to give her one last gift. The gift of thousands of kind words from well wishers; however, the thread was filled with hundreds of messages from former students and co-workers who were able to let her know just how much she meant, and how impactful she was. She undoubtedly made a difference to anyone who knew her.

David said, "She is, and always has been, a very positive person and I think it would be great for her to see the impact she's had on all of our lives. So often, we don't get a chance to vocalize how much people mean to us. I will not waste this chance."

Mrs. Rode read every word that was sent her way, and according to those closest to her, it was a most fitting gift.

Mrs. Rode taught English for many years at WMRHS, having moved to Whitefield in 1979. She was born in the Bronx in May of 1947, and brought that New York flare, matched with empathy to the North Country.

Her son David, recalls, "When I was old enough to start school, there was no kindergarten program in Whitefield so she literally started her own and ran it out of our living room for a couple years. In the late 80's she began teaching at White Mountains, and the rest is history."

She was a fierce advocate for all of her students, and always drew out the talents from those who thought they had none. She would hold a "mirror" to her students and look them square in the eye and very firmly say "Look! This is what you're capable of, this is how you're unique, and this is what your gift to the world is." Mostly, she was upfront about it, but for a select few, she was sneaky but it worked and she was always right.

Mrs. Rode of course loved to read and to be by the ocean whenever possible. Mostly though, she loved to talk.

Her son explained, "Oh she loved to talk to anyone and everyone and she loved learning about people and sharing stories and shooting the breeze. She was always genuinely interested in what others had to say, and was equally interested in speaking her mind as well."

When asked what her favorite phrases were, David said, "Who says life is fair? Where is that written?" and "The diet starts tomorrow…after breakfast."

The day after his mother passed, David said, "If she can teach us anything, it's that we should never put off saying what we feel to the people that matter most. Don't lose touch with those who touch you. Pick up the phone, grab a beer, book a lunch date, whatever, because we are all we have. Thank you all in advance for your words and prayers. When the world has started spinning again, let's grab a beer and talk."

Co-worker and fellow English teacher Annette McMahon remained close with Mrs. Rode over the years.

"It was quite a shock as Helen had been to my house just before she died. Helen and I had adjacent rooms for over 20 years. She had 11th grade American Lit class and I had 12th grade English Lit. We collaborated quite a bit, especially sharing the same students," McMahon added, "She was always concerned about the welfare of her students and would relay special information if she thought it would help the student. When we both retired we still kept up our friendship and met on a regular basis to reminisce about our WMRHS days. There are many stories to tell, but will remain as secrets. I will miss her."

Megan Hartlen Gifford, who was a student of Rode's summed it up best in a post that Mrs. Rode was able to read just before she passed.

Gifford wrote, "Mrs. Rode, I am now 46 years old and I still regularly tell people that you will never meet, even rooms full of people, about how much you taught me. I don't remember anything you taught me about English, but my soul remembers what you taught me about taking the moments we have with people to make them feel treasured, loved, and worthy."

Gifford said, "At a time when we were trying to fit in, trying to act mature and figure out who we would be at a time when everyone around us was telling us to step up and grow up, you gave us…story time. I don't know how long it had been since 16 year old me had someone read out loud to them, and it probably looked like I was sleeping, but in those moments with my eyes closed to shut out all of the distractions, the elegant timbre of your soothing voice filled the room and brought me peace. You were giving us meditation time before it was cool."

Thinking back on her high school years, Gifford said to Rode, "Maybe the guy I liked didn't like me. Maybe I didn't get the part I wanted in the school play. Maybe my parents were "the absolute worst". It didn't matter. It all melted away when I heard your voice. You gave us permission, if just for a moment, to be five years old again. No expectations. No pressure. No judgment. You read to your students as though each one of us was your own beloved child, and that's how you treated us as well. I needed that. I have never forgotten it."

Lastly, Gifford nailed it: "You are a living glitter-bomb, a unicorn, and a queen, yet somehow, your humble spirit comes through in all that you do. Even though you shine so brightly, it has never been about you. Your light has always been used to illuminate those around you. What a precious gift. You may read this and think that all of these things can't be true. They are. Take a bow. I am a better person, and I am better to the people around me, because I am lucky enough to know you. I will never stop telling your story."

Viewings will take place at Baileys Funeral Home on Sept. 17 from 2-4, and 6-8 p.m. A funeral will take place at All Saints Church on Sept. 18 at 11 a.m.

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