For me, a behind-the-scenes staff member at the past 30 AASA national conferences, two individuals who aren’t going to be in San Diego for the 2020 event this month represent a much bigger deal than those who will be on hand.
I’ll profoundly miss the presence of both Peter Corona and Gary Marx during the National Conference on Education Feb. 13-15 at the San Diego Convention Center. Both passed away since the last AASA conference, and they leave major voids. Both will be forever etched into whatever memories I carry forward when I think about my time at AASA’s most important membership event.
Peter was a colorful and chatty character and a superintendent over 47 years in California who had not missed a single AASA national conference for the past 62 years. He delighted in reveling over every new notch he’d add to his enviable and unbreakable attendance record. Peter made it a point to stop by the office of the association’s Conference Daily Online upon his arrival in each year’s convention city and dutifully checked in at least once a day thereafter with his observations and kind-hearted support of our work.
Before he departed the 2019 conference in Los Angeles for home in Walnut Creek, Calif., Peter bid us a spirited farewell, and he and I shared sincere wishes to see each other one year later in San Diego, his hometown. Less than two weeks later on Feb. 28, his wife reported he died of a massive stroke at age 90.
Gary, by contrast, had a somewhat lesser presence in recent years but an outsized impact on my perennial work assignment and on the AASA conference itself. He was director of communications at AASA over a 20-year period ending in 1999.
During that time frame, he was the distinctive baritone public announcer voice behind the curtain at every General Session staged at the conference – and he was fittingly invited back in 2015 to reprise that role when AASA celebrated its 150th year of existence.
Gary was responsible in his early years at AASA for expanding the media presence at the association’s national convention. This included the launch of a daily newspaper on site, often running 16 to 24 pages a day, to capture the major activities of the previous day at the conference and highlighting the day ahead. I have run that morning-to-night news operation, a print publication until 2008 and an electronic newsletter ever since. Memorably, after the first print issue would be distributed throughout the convention center, Gary would decorate my temporary
work desk each year with a hand-drawn blue ribbon bearing the same silly notation: “Joe Pulitzer thought you deserved this.”
In recent years, Gary maintained a cameo presence at AASA conferences through his active participation in and presidency of the Horace Mann League, which also conducts its annual meeting during the AASA conference. He never missed an opportunity over the past 20 years to stop by our conference newsroom for a short catchup
Gary died in hospice care of prostate cancer on May 31 at age 80 at his home in Vienna, Va.
(Jay P. Goldman is editor of AASA’s Conference Daily Online and School Administrator magazine.)