Kevin Mowat’s presence filled a room. It wasn’t just his booming voice, his large stature and his hearty laugh…it was his energy and his endless enthusiasm. Kev was a bright light. He radiated positivity and warmth each and every day to all that knew him.
I had the pleasure of getting to know Kev through many years of work with school libraries and then was lucky enough to work closely with him over the last few years as part of Team 109 at Prince Charles Educational Resource Centre in the Winnipeg School Division. Yesterday, I had the opportunity to share my thoughts on Kev, and some of the words below at a celebration of his life with family and friends. It was a great honour.
Kev loved his job, he loved the work he did with educators near and far, he loved the many schools and students he had supported over the years and he loved the people he worked with. A typical start to the workday for Kev reflected what he did best…connecting. It might look like catching up on the news in Room 109, before a good morning to the library staff next door, a visit with Dave, Nori and Jon done the hall, and a check in with Lawrence. Kev knew the value of relationships above all else. In the words of his longtime colleague and dear friend, Penny Morka, “Kev leaves us with his legacy of how important personal relationships are in the workplace and how we all need to make time to connect with our colleagues. He taught us it is not the work that makes us who we are, it is the people we surround ourselves with that inspire us each day, to gain perspective, rise to the challenge and be critical thinkers”.
Suddenly losing Kevin the way we did was a tragic loss leaving an entire learning community within WSD, in greater Winnipeg and beyond in mourning. The tremendous support offered from this community over the past week and a half through visits to PCERC, thoughtful gestures, kind words, phone calls, and emails have been astounding and offered great comfort to many colleagues during this difficult time. On top of that, the outpouring of acknowledgments on Social Media has been unparalleled. In fact one evening last week @kevmowat was actually trending on Twitter in Winnipeg. Kev would be humbled and so very touched by this.
His network extended well beyond just the Winnipeg School Division, greater Winnipeg or even Manitoba. Kevin strongly believed in the value of the network and the power of being a connected learner and he shared this passion with others. Through Twitter he had made many professional connections over the years, even nationally and internationally.
This extended network also mourned the loss of Kev. Chris Kennedy, a colleague from the West Coast, who Kev spoke of often and admired greatly honoured Kev with a blog post last week entitled, “On Internet Friends and My Friend Kevin”. Chris writes, “I spent just a few days with Kevin in-person, but he was a wonderful friend. He is proof of the power and possibility of the Internet. When we see others use the technology so poorly, he reminded us that technology can bring us together, build community and support each other.”
There are many words and accolades that stand out and come up over and over again in the messages remembering Kevin; common themes about Kev’s “ big smile, intense passion for libraries and learning, his gentle presence, youthful exuberance, sense of wonder and joy, his genius in making connections, his eagerness to see potential in everyone, and his amazing, brilliant spirit”.
People repeatedly described him as a “warm, happy, generous, joyous man who always inspired the best in others”. They talked about how there is no one else like him, how he has touched so many, and how he had a way of making people laugh and come together”.
They use words like “one of a kind,, amazing human being and nicest, warmest man ever”. There is “no doubt” that Kevin was highly respected and adored by many.
This was one of the first messages shared after Kev’s passing..
Beautiful words and a lovely metaphor so well articulated by a colleague.
Architect of education… Kevin truly did build a legacy of learning in the Winnipeg School Division. He impacted many across the division in his 42 years of service. His impact can be found in the many beautiful libraries that enhance our schools, the books that fill those shelves, the literacy lessons taking place in classrooms across grade levels and the many innovative practices now being embraced by teachers. Through his initial vision and guidance, The Vic Al Makerspace was established which received an honourable mention for the National Ken Spencer Innovation Award through the CEA this past Spring. His leadership around library makerspace has impacted the “making movement” has been far-reaching.
Kevin was a master educator. He could speak to, consult on, write about and be asked to present on a myriad of topics; inquiry, balanced literacy, inclusion, integrating indigenous perspectives, formative assessment, students as makers, design thinking, professional learning communities, data and the list goes on. The work he had done in recent years with the Innovative Teaching and Learning Leaders has impacted and inspired many. His repertoire of experience and knowledge made him a true learning leader.
As a learning leader, over the span of his career, Kev taught many people…. both students and teachers… many many things. But what he taught us most, what was so very unique to him went beyond just knowledge, and curriculum or pedagogy and practice.
Maya Angelou said,“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” What we will remember most about Kevin is how he made us feel. Through the essence of who he was, he taught us so very much. One of the things he taught us most is how to be generous with our time, with our words and in our actions.
He always noticed and made a point to comment on your new shirt, new shoes, new glasses, or haircut. He would take the time to say, “Well don’t you look nice today”. That never did get old. He went out of his way to make everyone feel included and if visitors stopped by the office, they were offered a coffee, or cup of tea. Always the gentleman.
Kevin taught us how to lead with grace, and how to celebrate in and with one another. He had a way of bringing people together and building bridges. He did not get caught up in pettiness, and there was no ego with Kev. He always said there is no “I” in TEAM. He was the ultimate collaborator and team player. He wanted the best for everyone and he not only celebrated in the success of others he went out of his way to help others achieve that success.
For example, whenever a new colleague began at Prince Charles he would be the first one to welcome them, both online and in person, walk them around the building or introduce them to everyone, ensuring they felt comfortable. He also always took the time to say thank you and acknowledge a job well done by a colleague. This went far beyond the building as he often acknowledged and celebrated the work of others both within, WSD, Manitoba and beyond.
He constantly modeled gratitude, collegiality and the importance of community. In fact, Kevin had a way of making people feel accepted and good about themselves that was unique to only him. In the words of different colleagues….” he made me feel like a superstar”, or “ Kevin’s eyes always brightened and smiled when he saw me. He would yell out my name and It made me feel like a million bucks.” or “I always loved how encouraging he was and accepting of where everyone was at.” Kev celebrated in people’s successes like no other. In the words of his dear friend George Couros, “No matter who you were, Kevin made you feel special and that you could do anything. He did it with me, and I watched him do it with others. He loved school, he loved libraries and he loved serving kids and staff.”
Kevin was the ultimate ambassador.
Picture courtesy of Doug Edmond: Rich Roberts, George Couros, Shauna Cornwell and Kevin Mowat -May 9th, 2016, Winnipeg
Kev also taught us the art of listening and empathy. He always had an open ear and an open heart. He listened without judgment, and always with genuine concern. He offered thoughtful and sage advice whether it be about work or home life, pets or children, health or travel. He had this way of always following up and making you feel like you were heard and valued. Because to him, you were.
At meetings, he would often sit back and listen… in his pensive, quiet way (yes he actually had a quiet side). He’d pick his moment and put forth some sort of brilliant connection or suggestion. It was through active listening, synthesizing and reflection that Kev always recognized the next step. He constantly brought us back to the learning intent, to our priorities and to the bigger picture. He had a laser focus on what mattered most….student learning and success.
Kev also taught us the beauty of the written word. He shared his passion for books and reading with all. He was also a highly skilled writer. He was thoughtful, strategic and eloquent in all of his correspondence whether it be a Tweet, an email, a memo or a report. Sharing in collaborative writing with Kev was always a pleasure and a learning experience. He had a way with words like no other and numerous expressions that will forever remain synonymous with him, -indeed, no doubt, quintessential, bravo(a), ubiquitous, and of course brilliant. If one could patent a word than the term BRILLIANT, Kev would own. I know many of us here today will fondly be reminded of Kev each and every time we hear that word moving forward.
Kev also loved nicknames…he had many, “The Big Guy”, “Big Kev” “@kevmowat” “KevMo” to name a few. He also affectionately had nicknames for others… “Bardy”, “Miss Penny”, ”the Lad”, “dude”, “buddy”, “laddy”, “boss” “darlin” “doll”, “kiddo”. Words to be treasured.
He taught us the importance of being a life-long learner, in fact he epitomized this. He was constantly challenging himself, reinventing himself, taking risks, learning new ways to do things, reading, thinking and pushing others to do so as well. He was always up with the latest research, the newest professional resource, or a relevant blog post. You just had to mention something you were looking for and before you knew it he would source it and send you a link. He was so resourceful that way. He shared his learning with others and so highly valued professional dialogue, discussion and debate. He truly embodied an Innovator’s Mindset.
Kev taught us to CHOOSE JOY. Kev loved his life and was a daily reminder to live life with joy, passion, and exuberance. The sun shone every day when Kev was around. It was not a passing mood. With Kev what you see is what you got…, always upbeat, and always positive.
Many staff or visitors to PCERC have commented on how closely our team worked, how we seemed “more like a family” and have acknowledged the laughter that often radiated from room 109. But what you were hearing was more than just laughter…what you were hearing was JOY. Our office was filled with joy everyday…joy in the work and joy in each other. Losing him will leave a huge void. But I can guarantee that walking by in the weeks and months to come you will still hear laughter and you will still hear joy. That is Kev’s legacy. He wouldn’t want it any other way.
Kevin Mowat truly did teach us all many many things. He will be dearly missed and his passing leaves a void in the educational landscape of Winnipeg School Division and beyond, as well as in our hearts. However, we can rest assured that the many many students and educators that have been touched by him are better for knowing him.
Kev was a lover of poetry and quotes. one of his favourites, which he shared often was the poem Success by RW Emerson. On August 25, Kev shared this poem with many educators, colleagues and friends to serve as inspiring words to start the school year…yet another example of how he always went out of his way to encourage and empower those around him.
Dear Kev…you certainly loved much and often and won the utmost respect of the many many children and colleagues who crossed your path. There was no one more skilled at finding the best in others, and celebrating the beauty and joy in everything life has to offer. You have most certainly left the world a better place because you have lived. By any measure Kevin Mowat, bravo, you have succeeded. You will be missed brilliant friend, but never forgotten.