In one way or another, nearly every person I have come in contact with during my passage through life has influenced my development by either providing a learning experience, enhancing my skills, or strengthening my resolve.”
The man behind these words is Roy Eaton. A Naples resident since 1991, Eaton is a retired high school math teacher and wrestling coach. For more than twenty years, Roy worked towards motivating students to see that they can achieve the impossible. His coaching legacy includes training eight All-American wrestlers and being inducted into the New York Military Academy Sports Hall of Fame, the New London Athletic Hall of fame and St. Bernard High School of Connecticut Athletic Hall of Fame. Honored and revered for his teaching and coaching abilities, he credits his success to biology, family and the “humans put in your path for you to learn from.”
Throughout his memoir, Soldier Boy, Eaton chronicles the profound impact that those in his life had on his view of the world. He is also incredibly self-aware of his own influence upon his life and others. These “defining moments” are incredibly insightful as his autobiography chronicles his life from childhood through college. Even as a young boy, he is able to clearly identify moments in his life that forever changed him; turning him into the man he is today.
Looking back on his childhood, Eaton readily discloses that his family was full of love and his parents always strived to give him the best. They also taught him some of his best lessons. While driving to a dinner party, the family was sideswipedby another vehicle, leaving their car in ruins. His parents suddenly began to laugh. “I was confused,” states Roy. “For I failed to see the humor in our present predicament.” But as his mother slowly turned, it was revealed that the Boston cream pie she had in her lap was now covering her face! “I was unsure if the outpouring of laughter was a result of this spectacular makeover, a collective release of pent-up emotion, or a celebration of continued life. It really did not matter, for that day I learned the importance of incorporating humor and laughter into one’s daily existence, and the relevance of maintaining one’s perspective when experiencing unexpected distress.”
As a fourth grader, Roy learned a valuable lesson as a result of his own behavior. “As a friendly gesture, during one of our lunches, I turned and asked my heartthrob to share a most prized culinary possession – a blueberry pie brought from home. Yielding to the pressure of her peers, she began tormenting me and ridiculing my love for pie. Angered and humiliated, I instantly provided her with a blueberry facial… My anger quickly turned to sorrow, for our eye contact confirmed the dastardly nature of my deed… From that moment on, I knew I would never intentionally hurt another human being.”
Roy kept this promise to himself as he entered New York Military Academy (NYMA) in seventh grade. As a young cadet, he was forced to endure hazing from the older students. Aware that it was not his own actions that caused these cruel antics, Roy promised that, “if and when I had othersin my charge, they would never be subjected to any form of physical or mental hazing.”
He kept his word. During his senior year he was promoted to cadet captain and placed in charge of grades five through eight of the academy’s Company G. “I had now come full circle,” he states. “This stewardship provided me the means by which to fulfill my pledge made six years earlier within these very same confines. No one in my charge would ever endure the hardship and hazing experienced by my friends and me during our first year at the academy.”
Roy’s “fair but firm” guidance awarded him the G.F.A. Riley Saber at his graduation. He received this, “for the patience, kindness and leadership displayed as commander of Company G.” Roy understood this reward came from his hard work and zero tolerance policy.
He would also learn the meaning of sacrifice. As he prepared to enter NYMA, his father sold his handcrafted lobster boat to pay for the upcoming school year. “Dad had sacrificed his personal aspirations so I could one day realize mine. I knew how much he loved this boat, and I vowed to never again intentionally disappoint this man I loved and admired.” Roy would later learn that sixty percent of his father’s salary had gone to his school tuition over the years.
Upon entering Pennsylvania Military College (now Widener University), in 1965, nearly all of Roy’s tuition and room and board would be paid thanks to scholarships he earned for high marks. “For the first time in nine years, Mom and Dad would be spared the responsibility of meeting tuitionpayment deadlines.” His commitment to never letting his parents down had once again brought him full circle.
Roy goes on to discuss some of the valuable lessons he learned throughout his college years. “I learned that success was inconsequential if there was no one with whom to share the fruits of my labor. I acquired a better understanding of the fine line that separates love and hatred, and I had grown to appreciate the importance of patience, compassion, communication and commitment in nurturing meaningful relationships.”
After a twenty-plus year teaching career and coaching eight All-American wrestlers, Roy reveals that even after learning all these life lessons and working towards perfection, the rewards are not always as evident as they were during his childhood. “I continue to give 100 percent to all endeavors, but I am now aware that others may not have the desire, will or ability to do the same. I reluctantly accept the premise that living a productive and decent life may have to be its own reward, because there are no guarantees that such a lifestyle will result in success, recognition or fulfillment.”
While this final defining moment may seem harsh, Roy has found personal fulfillment through leadership roles in teaching and coaching, a strong marriage and happy family life and carefully chiseling his own character. If we were all able to look at ourselves the way Roy Eaton has throughout his life, perhaps we would be able to find contentment in our lives by simply being good. What a premise.
Roy Eaton’s memoir, “Soldier Boy,” is available for sale at Amazon.com, along with his novel “The Chosen Few,” co-written by Joseph DiLalla