Sunday, April 27, 2008

Math Legend Sawyer Honored

Eight CHS'54 Math Scholars meet with Karl Sawyer's adult children

By Jerry Gaudet

The part about "math scholars" might be a stretch, but we were all better off for having been in Karl Sawyer's math classes at Central High School. On April 22, 2008, in what was an extraordinayr gathering, we visited with the four Sawyer siblings to recount memories of being in Mr. Sawyer's math classes.

Thanks to Bonson for arranging this event following a chance meeting with Pierce Sawyer.

Karl Sawyer (1954)

(LtoR) Karl Sawyer,Jr, Warren Sparrow, Jay Summey, Jeanne Sawyer Matlock, Jerry Gaudet, Al Selby, Jake Barnhardt, John Culp, Bob Ellis, Pierce Sawyer, Bonson Hobson and Kay Sawyer Cowen.
Photo by Mrs. Pam Sawyer (wife of Karl Jr.)


Thoughts on Mr. Karl Sawyer

By Obie Oakley

Obie Oakley was one of the least likely candidates in Central High School to be taking classes under Karl Sawyer. I certainly was not a good student, but I knew I wanted to go to college and I knew I wanted to study engineering and the only road that would take me there was strait through Mr. Sawyer’s classroom! So, it was really by default that I was there.
Despite all the horror stories that prevailed, I felt totally comfortable in his classroom. From day one, he made it perfectly clear how things were to be, it would be “his way or the highway”! We were told all his ground rules which, to name a few, were discipline, punctuality, discipline, how we were to fold our papers, discipline, that we would pay attention in class, discipline and finally, discipline! Piece of cake.
Mr. Sawyer was a gifted leader and a man who had a passion for teaching. With me, he knew exactly how to motivate and give me all the reasons for wanting to achieve in his class. First of all, he treated everyone the same. It didn’t make any difference that I was not an athlete or which side of the track I came from or that I had not been a good student when I came to his class, I was there to learn and he was there to teach
His classes were not all about math, algebra or geometry either. He would mix in incidental stories from his experiences and I actually found him to be quite amusing. Since my heroes then, as now, were the veterans of WWII, it was especially entertaining to hear him relate “war” stories from his experiences in Italy. Looking back, we have to realize that he had been on the battlefield just a short nine years before standing in front of that classroom
When I emerged from that year, taking all the senior courses he taught, I proudly considered myself one of “Mr. Sawyer’s boys”. (Some would say “Karl’s boys”, but even 30 years later I could never bring myself to call him Karl)! I was fortunate enough to go off to college and study engineering and unlike many of my classmates who aspired to get that BS degree, passing the math courses wasn’t the challenge it would have been without the background Mr. Sawyer gave me.
After graduation from Central, I made it a point to drop by just to say hello and thank him for helping me in more ways than just in the classroom and probably made the visit each year I was in college. He seemed to appreciate it when one of his boys would come by to “shoot the bull” as he would refer to those conversations
It was about 1970 however that a good friend, Peyton Warley who had graduated Central in 1952, and I thought it might be good to have a reunion with our old mentor and for a number of years, Peyton and I would invite Mr. Sawyer to lunch at the Charlotte City Club. I think he was proud of his boys (both Peyton and I had been officers in the Army and were Airborne-Rangers). Mr. Sawyer’s last gift to me was more special and more meaningful that all the equations and theorems in all the textbooks. As we all know, he had the propensity for wanting things in order and that seemed to never change even to the planning his funeral. He wanted certain hymns, he wanted a military funeral complete with taps and he wanted some of “his boys” to be pall bearers. It was my honor to be on that list.
Osborne (Obie) C. Oakley, Jr. CHS ‘54

Karl S. Sawyer: The Forgotten Soldier

Presented 22 April 2008
At a gathering of those who remember him
Charleys Restaurant at Cotswold Village Shops
Charlotte, North Carolina

Good afternoon. It is a privilege to be at this remarkable event. I thank Bonson Hobson for inviting me and for giving me an opportunity to meet with my classmates and with the children of our teacher. This is an extraordinary day. I thank each and every one of you for making this celebration possible.

Make no doubt about it. This is a celebration. It is long overdue. We all owe this man much more than we can repay. How quickly we moved from his classroom to other things. In my case it was on to North Carolina State College of Agriculture and Engineering. Charles Mateer, one of our classmates, was my roommate. We signed up for civil engineering.

Thanks to our high-school teacher, Charles and I rolled through freshman math. We really never gave our teacher the credit he deserved. He prepared us well. We even tutored one of the State basketball players.

It was in those college algebra classes and the solid-geometry and trigonometry classes during the 12th grade that I began to appreciate mathematics in a way that would benefit me long after my days at Central. The teacher we honor today was responsible for it all. He tried to instill in me a discipline that would help me in ways I had never imagined.

I have no particular anecdote about him. I do have this: My college-algebra book from 1953-4. It is the only book I have from those days, extending all the way back to first grade. I think we had to turn in our books at the end of the year. How I ended up with this one is a mystery. But, I have it with me today. Here a few notes I wrote in its margins:

On Page 119, Systems of Linear Equations… “Heavy set!”

On Page 128, Exponents and Radicals… “Got back test dated March 9, 1954. Made ‘A.’”

On Page 143, Exponents and Radicals… “Am leaving for Raleigh at 11:00 a.m. I am sleepy!”

On Page 160, Quadratic Equations… “King Karl took off like a scalded gazelle.”

On Page 175, Quadratic Equations… “Today is the last College Alg. Class—Goodbye, Mr. Sawyer, and thanks.” Continuing on the next page… “May 28, 1954, Dear Diary- No test! It’s all over but the shouting. Sawyer is screaming about writing quadratics.”

Never let it be said that Karl Sawyer did not press his students until the end.

Finally, I want to thank your father, our magnificent teacher, for making my life better.

Had it not been for him I would not have made A’s in math at N. C. State.

Had it not been for him I would not have gotten the Naval ROTC scholarship to Duke.

Had it not been for him I would not have made it through the Duke Engineering School.

Had it not been for him I would not have been accepted at Wake Forest Law School.

Had it not been for him I would not be standing here today after more than 40 years in the wilderness known as the judicial system. And, I am not done yet, thanks to the undying support of Lydia Rebecca Smit, my wife of 46 years, and the things I learned from Karl Sawyer long ago. Unfortunately, I forgot many of them.

This may seem a little corny but it is true. It is like the old story of the loss of a kingdom because of the loss of a nail. You all know the story.

In this case, however, it is the reverse: Because there was a nail many kingdoms were made. My life was one of them.

The nail was Karl S. Sawyer.

Thank you for your kind attention.

W. Warren Sparrow
Charlotte Central High School
Class of 1954

22 April 2008