Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

A Date with Dr. Jacque

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

A Date with Dr. Jacque

Article excerpt

FREIGHTERS 1,000 yards long rode high in the water as they pushed north toward the Lake Superior ore pits. Those heading south, laden with ore, rode low in the water like long rafts carried by the six-knot current. Across the river, power-plant chimneys and grain silos rose against the flat, evening Ontario sky, totems of an earlier industrial era. Powerboats scudded upriver, downriver, their running lights not yet on.

I recognized the arch of her eyebrow as she moved past the restaurant window. I hurried to greet her. She was smartly dressed, as if for the captain's table on a summer cruise.

It is an American impulse to first-name everyone we meet, to pull them, like it or not, into the hot tub of familiarity. But we need some people more in special relationships - as teachers, lawyers, advisers - than as friends.

So it would always be "Dr. Jacque," as it was the other evening at dinner overlooking the Detroit River. Today she is a retired former deputy superintendent of Detroit's public schools, busy with bridge, golf, and trekking about the world with friends; and I am a writer and editor. But the margin of protocol had been set years earlier when she was the young standout math teacher at an east side high school, and I was a student who talked well and liked to tease. She was the student council advisor, and I would get out of my third-hour English class on any number of excuses to discuss matters like Cardinal Newman's book "The Idea of a University."

I'd seen her only twice since the long-ago commencement, once when she had become a district superintendent, and later after she had been named the second-ranking member of the city's school operation. "If she were black, she would be the superintendent of schools, not me," her boss, Arthur Jefferson, told me on the latter occasion. This wasn't just schmooze. Intelligent, articulate, unflappable, elegant in her ability to lend an opponent no edge, she helped restructure the city school system to survive wrenching economic and social change.

Threads to pick up: Did she resent missing the top job because she was white in a period of black political power? …

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