America was saddened by the death of General Norman Schwarzkopf on December 27, 2012. As I read the obituaries and articles commemorating this remarkable man’s achievements, I was struck by how he wanted to be remembered as more than a military man. He preferred the affectionate moniker “The Bear” to the ubiquitous “Stormin’ Norman.” He supported many charities and always championed children.
General Schwarzkopf was a pillar of the Tampa community, where he lived out his retirement years and I lived out my teenage years. As tribute, I want to share some of my memories of him and the public elementary school that bears his name.
I come from a military family: both my parents and both my grandfathers were career Air Force. When my parents retired to Tampa, Florida, our whole family was excited to learn that not only would my younger brother and sister attend H. Norman Schwarzkopf Elementary School, but the man himself would be our neighbor.
General Schwarzkopf lived about a third of a mile away from us. He shared a back yard with my little sister’s best friend. When my sister’s best friend was a toddler, he used to slip through the fence to play with the dogs. The Schwarzkopfs knew he was afraid of helicopters, so they notified the family when one was expected.
A common sight in the neighborhood was General Schwarzkopf walking his dogs, Griz and Orso. I remember Orso in particular because we misheard “Orzo” and wondered why he’d name his dog after pasta. Turned out the dog was Orso, Italian for ‘bear.’ You can read about the indomitable spirit of Orso Schwarzkopf here.
Students at Schwarzkopf Elementary School were very proud of their mascot, a bear with four stars on his hat. When we lived in Tampa, General Schwarzkopf bought ice cream for all 1,000 Bears every year. It was the good kind that came in little cups with a wooden spoon that somehow enhanced the vanilla flavor.
Just before my sister entered third grade, she saw General Schwarzkopf at our neighborhood Fourth of July party. She tapped him on his elbow—as high as she could reach—and declared, “Hey, I’m one of your Bears!” General Schwarzkopf stopped what he was doing and kneeled so he could be close to eye level with my sister, then talked with her for a few moments. He cared deeply about the students at his school and he knew how excited they were whenever they saw him, whether at school or in the neighborhood.
Schwarzkopf Elementary School was important to me, because it was where I started learning how to be a teacher. I volunteered over a hundred hours there while I was in high school, as a math tutor and as a teacher’s helper at the Gifted Summer School. My parents supported the Secret Bear program, where voluntary cash donations helped to ensure all students could afford field trips, school pictures, yearbooks and other needs that might be financial stumbling blocks during the school year.
More about General Schwarzkopf’s philanthropy:
He founded Camp Boggy Creek with actor Paul Newman. The camp serves children with chronic or life-threatening illnesses. General Schwarzkopf enjoyed interacting with the campers and seeing the camp succeed in its mission.
He founded the Norman Schwarzkopf Sporting Clays Classic, a tournament that draws world-class skeet shooters. The tournament raises money for the Children’s Home, a shelter for kids who have been abused or neglected.
He used his fame to raise public awareness of prostate cancer. He served as the national spokesman for Prostate Cancer Awareness Week and supported the National Prostate Cancer Coalition.
Fun fact: the “H” in H. Norman Schwarzkopf stands for “Herbert,” but my little sister thought it stood for “Hero.” She wanted to grow up and have a school named for her, with “H” before her name.