A Man for All Seasons
By Jane Gutsell (originally included in the GDS Magazine in 2014)
Bob Satterfield says that retirement is “the dessert of life.” Having taught at Greensboro Day School since its founding and retiring in June 2007 after 37 years of service as both a teacher and an administrator, Bob has lots of different desserts on his plate. The best thing is being able to set his own schedule and to pursue his many hobbies. First, there’s his love of gardening. Spring is thus his favorite time of year when he can go to flower shows and nurseries and work in his yards both here in Greensboro and at his and his wife Vada’s small cottage on Rockingham Lake, which they share with retired chemistry teacher K Windham. This retreat is very important to this former tobacco farm boy because, as he says, it has brought the sense of country back into his life. After almost eight years of his and K’s landscaping there, the yard is in full bloom now and boasts several abundant blueberry bushes.
Another of Bob’s passions is re-purposing old furniture and other types of things and in collecting. If Bob is anything (and he is many things), he is a collector. Both of his homes are abundantly and lovingly decorated with southern, especially North Carolina pottery, folk and outsider art, and practically anything handmade.
Bob and Vada’s love of travel was on hold after Vada suffered a bad fall. It took five major operations and four years of rehabilitation to get her walking again during which time Bob found himself entering a new profession as a trained home health care provider. Once Vada was able to travel, they have made two big trips. They went with a group to the Canadian Rockies and especially enjoyed touring Buchart Gardens. On an old rock quarry, the gardens are 200 acres of sunken gardens and a wonderful variety of flowers including the highlight, 600,000 roses which were all in bloom the day they visited. Next they went to Australia, where they were fascinated by the aboriginal people, New Zealand, and three magical nights on Fiji. Their favorite moment was air-ballooning across the Australian Outback at sunrise. As the balloon was taking off it brushed through a patch of a spicy plant, whose fragrance floated right up with them.
Another highlight of Bob’s retirement was the addition last April of a beloved grandson, Cash, who lives in Asheville with mom Christy and dad Jeremy Satterfield. Proud grandparents get to visit once a month or so. As Bob says, “Retirement also brings the excitement of a new tooth!” He is also very proud of his older son Derick, who lives in Reidsville and is the Director of Enrollment for Rockingham Community College. Derick is currently finishing his doctorate in Community College Leadership.
Bob and Vada enjoy monthly lunches with other GDS retirees, continuing the Day School tradition of camaraderie, a strong feeling that made working there so wonderful. To all of students and school friends, he says, “I can’t tell you what it meant to have such a supportive, warm place to work. It was the best experience. My thanks to all.”
Remember Mr. Satt
by Kathy Davis (spoken at his funeral)
Bob, Bobbo, Mr. Satterfield, Mr. Satt, husband, dad, papa, friend, teacher, mentor and so much more. Those are a few of the names we called Bob Satterfield. In fact, we call him a legend because Bob was larger than life – a man who loved us all. Bob and I were math teachers so it’s only right to do a word problem involving statistical analysis. I’m going to estimate that everyone in this room has at least 5 Bob stories. And, for those who have known him for years, I estimate 500 Bob stories. Given that each of those stories would take at least 2 minutes, I’m estimating that it would take us at least 3000 hours to collectively share Bob stories. Just so you will know that is at least 4 months around the clock to tell Bob stories. That was Bob. So many stories. So much love. So much care. So many laughs. So much fun. I’m sorry that we don’t have 4 months to hear Bob stories. But, I hope we will continue to tell Bob stories for the next 40 years. I am grateful to Vada, Derick, Jeremy and Christy for allowing me to tell a few of my Bob stories.
In the spring of 1974, I went to Greensboro Day School as a student teacher. I was told that there was a new school with a young teacher who wanted a student teacher. That’s how I met Bob Satterfield. He was the young teacher. Little did I know what was in store for me. I drove out to the little school in the country to meet Bob. There he was, tall with long DARK hair and he immediately made me feel part of the crowd, just as he did with everyone he met. I had a great time for those weeks and went from a kid who thought she would do statistics and make a lot of money to a young woman who loved teaching and realized money was not the goal. All because of Bob. He changed my life. At the end of my student teaching, GDS offered me a job and Bob negotiated my contract. I had graduated and was living with my mom in eastern NC when Bob called with the offer. He said the salary was $7000 and I said I didn’t know if I could live off of that, so he called back the next night with his new negotiated offer. He was so excited to offer $7100. I told my mom and she said, “Obviously you have made a great friend. That’s more important than any money. Take the job and enjoy it.” So I did and I never regretted that decision and Bob was one of the main reasons.
For about 20 years, Bob and I ran the “Orange Drive” at the school. We were voluntold and we could never give it up. In the beginning, we used the church across the street to distribute the citrus. We would go over with about 15 students, some borrowed rollers from Food Lion in 20 degree weather and unload an 18 wheeler that was packed with oranges and grapefruit. Every year, as we stood there and the truck driver opened the full truck, Bob would always say, “Hum, Mrs. Davis, it looks like we have a few oranges.” From there, all you know what would break loose, and we would work for 2 days as hard as we could to get rid of those oranges. As the drive grew, we eventually moved from the church to a larger warehouse. We would order extra oranges so that Bob could sell them to the warehouse employees at cost. He was amazing. He talked to everyone, sold them citrus and made them feel like a million dollars. He saw value in each person.
Bob had the best “people skills” of anyone I’ve ever met. He could make a friend out of a snake. I’ve seen him in many situations. He could walk up to a dignitary and make conversation or he could meet someone with no education and make them feel comfortable. I have seen him handle irate parents who just knew the school had done their child wrong in such a way, that by the end, they were hugging Bob and thanking him. He had a calm way that brings “someone to their knees.” I often sat in awe as Bob talked to a student. I’ve seen him work with teachers to make them better. Again, he saw the best in every person. He knew that everyone can and will make a mistake but that there is mostly good inside that person. He managed to bring out that good in all of us.
When asked what he taught, Bob epitomizes the phrase “I teach children.” He used math as the vehicle to teach those children, but he loved and taught the child. He was a master teacher and could explain concepts better than most. Bob made every student feel they could be successful. I’ve seen him take the most math phobic child and make them feel like they were the math star. Bob had the patience of Job. He wanted the best for his students. He was a recipient of the James P Hendrix teaching award, the highest award given to a GDS teacher. I remember the day he got the award. He said, “I think this has little to do with teaching the quadratic formula and a lot to do with working with children.” He was right.
I would estimate Bob chaperoned over 100 dances in his 37 years at GDS. I know you find this hard to believe but dance time is a time in which a student could possibly make a bad decision. Bob was in charge of discipline. At a dance, he would look around and he would identify the problem, and would walk over to me and say, “Mrs. Davis, may I speak with you a moment.” I knew that was the kiss of death and that I would be with Bob when he spoke with the student. He was a master. Of course, the student would always deny the problem initially but after a little Mr. Satterfield conversation, they would own up to it. Bob always assured them that while they had made a mistake, we still loved them and would work with them.
I’ve talked a lot about Bob as a teacher and administrator but then there was Bob as a friend. My mother decorated my house every Christmas until her death in 1991. Bob knew I was dreading the first Christmas after her death. One day my doorbell rang and there was Bob with enough greenery to fill up the coliseum. Since 1991, Bob decorated my house every Christmas. We would take a whole day to talk and laugh and eat and decorate. It was such a wonderful gift from him. Ironically, we had named December 16th as our decorating day this year. The day he passed away.
I sound like I was the only recipient of Bob’s generosity but I am not. Like the time, our friends Judy and Ed were getting married in Vegas and Bob pulled Judy aside to say he and Vada would like to go witness this occasion. What a gift. Or the time, Bob went out to help our friend when her husband passed away. Bob as a friend was one of a kind. I can’t tell you how many of us were recipients of small gifts he saw and knew it would bring a smile. He always put others first. Bob made every friend feel like his best friend. There is a brick on the quad at GDS that says the names of four of us who were known as the four musketeers. Tricia Fish, Cindy Stan, Bob’s and my names around the words “friends forever.” After Bob’s death, I put a picture of the brick on fb and said, “Well, this sums it up.” So many wonderful students responded. My daughter responded by saying some people never know the type of friendship the four of us share. She’s right. We are truly blessed. But let me make sure you understand there could be 100 names on that brick, and possibly a 1000. The turnout here today speaks to the number of people who loved Bob.
When Bob was diagnosed with AML, I thought he will beat it. But, I came to realize many people diagnosed with this horrific disease live less than a week. We had four weeks. I got to visit Bob and on one of those visits he was very alert. Our friend Judy fed him a tangerine. He felt better and asked me to order him a cup of coffee. Of course, he took charge and told me just how to order the coffee. We got to say we loved each other. He asked me to pray and I did. It was a visit I will never forget. The love in that room was so much bigger than life and Judy and I are so thankful for that time with Bob.
When Bob retired, we had the biggest retirement party that has ever been given at Greensboro Day School, including math teachers dancing and singing to Dolly’s 9-5 to honor Bob’s love of Miss Dolly and his Dolly trash can which is infamous. But the truly famous person wasn’t Dolly – it was Bob. At the end of that retirement party, Vada suggested we play the song from Wicked “For Good.” It was a perfect song. This is when I wish I could sing but that my voice would not honor Mr. Satt. But I do want us to think about the words. Bob, here’s to you. Like the song says, “So much of me is made of what I learned from you. You’ll be with me like a handprint on my heart. I do believe I have been changed for the better because I knew you. I have been changed for good.”
I want to go one step further. Bob, we believe we have been changed for the better because we knew you. We have been changed for good. Thank you, Bob, thank you. Godspeed.