The last words Brien Gardiner said to me are still ringing in my ears.
It was last year, during a meeting with parents who wanted answers about allegations of financial misconduct by Gardiner - the founder and former CEO of Philadelphia Academy Charter School in the Northeast - and his hand-picked successor, Kevin O'Shea. I was one of the parents who stood up and expressed disappointment in Gardiner, a man I considered honorable. Afterward, Gardiner thanked me for my remarks.
"I hope that when everything comes out, you will write the truth," he told me, firmly shaking my hand.
Now some of that truth will never be told. Facing the possibility of federal indictments as a result of a far-reaching investigation, Gardiner was found dead Wednesday of an apparent suicide. It was a tragic end for a man who, 18 months ago, was considered a pioneer in charter schools and special education.
I met Gardiner more than a decade ago, when he was still the principal of Farrell Elementary School in Rhawnhurst. My son was part of a revolutionary class there for children with Asperger's syndrome, a form of autism. The class was a lifeline for my son, who didn't really seem to fit into any situation at school.
But when my son finished his third and final year in the program, we were faced with a dilemma. The school district had no suitable placement for him, and neither did the parochial system.
There was a special class at our local public school, but when we visited it, we quickly noticed that the children were not being taught; they were only being watched. One child played with blocks in the corner, while others colored or stared at the wall. Even worse, we were told that the following year, the class would be held in a hallway until a suitable classroom was found.
With September looming, we turned again to Gardiner. Then the CEO of the new Philadelphia Academy Charter School, Gardiner listened to our plea. We marked the months anxiously before he called to tell me that he had an opening for our son. It was one of the happiest days of our lives.
From third grade until my son's graduation and eventual move to Philadelphia Academy Charter High School, Gardiner helped him through many difficulties and celebrated his successes. He also welcomed our daughter, who also has disabilities, into the school's fold, and he immediately took an interest in her progress.
We were lucky in that we never experienced any difficulties with the school's administrators. Other parents reported problems that evolved into the current investigation.
Like many other parents, we were shocked at the allegations against O'Shea and particularly Gardiner. It didn't seem like the right ending to a story about a man who did so much to promote the education of children who often fall through the cracks in the system.
As the stories about missing funds and abuse of power continued to leak out, I continued to wait for Gardiner to explain what happened - to give me that promised piece of "truth." Now, I guess, I will always be waiting.