To my knowledge, he never planted any seeds. I am reasonably certain that he never had a garden and equally confident that he never tilled the soil.
Yet I would be inexcusably remiss if I didn't tip my hat to Barry Ronald Soffin, whose passing on Dec. 20 has left a massive hole in the hearts of the many of us fortunate to have known him.
Copious entries in The News' Guest Book would lend substantial credence to the fact that "Soffin," as most knew him, was, indeed, a superb gardener. When last I checked, some 10 pages of tributes had been written on his behalf.
In his eulogy, his brother, Rabbi Joel, referred to him as a "brother, son, father, husband, teacher and friend." I knew him on several levels, but most notably as a friend and teaching colleague. I knew him for somewhat less than half of his 59 years, but one didn't need to know him for more than one of his math classes to sense that this was a truly unique man. Pretense was never a part his character. He was as "real" on first meeting as he would ever be, and his booming voice and imposing presence belied the sweetness in his heart and the sincerity of his goodness.
He would often begin the new school year by sharing his home phone number with his students at East, South Park and City Honors during a 33-year teaching career. He told me that it was part of his job. He also told me that he never once received a prank call.
But I do know that he saved some lives; that he spent hours with kids in need. Like any great teacher, he cried at the few kids he couldn't help and took quiet joy in the many he did.
He was born with, raised and continued to nurture the seed of genuine human kindness that continues to bloom in the hearts of many former students.
With his wife and dearest friend, Rosemary, he raised four children who reflect his love, who encouraged his passion and who now grieve his loss. Yet, in Soffin tradition, they will continue to touch lives the same way that their father taught them.
Yes, Soffin was a gardener, one who encouraged growth in more than just math. True, he was co-organizer of the Buffalo Math League, coached those who loved and those who loathed math. He knew the SAT and taught students unique approaches to solving problems. He loved the challenge and certitudes that math provided, but could empathize with those who didn't. He could, as so many of his students reiterated, "make math fun."
His mantra in the classroom insisted that students remain open, that they ask questions and that they learn. When he was satisfied that his goals had been accomplished, he never missed the opportunity to tell a story.
Math success was the bloom that was magically supported by the life roots that grew strong in the fertile soil of his classroom. Students learned so much more than subject; they learned life.
So, Barry Soffin -- the teacher, father, husband, son, friend and gardener -- has set down his earthly tools, leaving them to a new generation of teachers. Some of them may even share their stories and home numbers. He leaves behind legions of former students, colleagues and friends, all beneficiaries of his bountiful harvest. He departs having sown seeds that will continue the beauty that he began. He was loved, and his is a beautiful garden to behold.