A Legend Lives On
The following tribute to Paul Mathis, a teacher at Lower Cape May Regional High School who passed away last week, was written by Chris Jay, a former pupil at LCMR and lead singer of the Ventura, California rock band, Army of Freshmen who will be headlining The Concert For Mr Mathis on Saturday, July 13 at Lower Cape May Regional.
I always envisioned Mr Mathis as an Indiana Jones type. By day he kept his identity secret as a mild-mannered English teacher, but as soon as that last bell rang he was off on some fantastic adventure, barely making it back in time for school the next morning.
Not that I imagined him spending his off hours melting Nazi faces with an Ark of the Covenant death ray, per se, but I always had a sneaking suspicion there was more to the man than meets the eye.
And how could there not have been?
Mr Mathis’ consummate taste in the arts, throwback literary cool and overall passion towards life in general couldn’t be fueled by just teaching at a small-town high school and running the drama department. Could it? No, in my mind, a man like that just had to have some kind of secret life.
Or maybe he was just in hiding. That was always a distinct possibility. One could easily imagine him on the lam from a vengeful Third World dictator whose rule was overthrown when a Mathis-penned play inspired a nation into action. You could totally see him in a Casablanca-worthy scene, standing by the rickety propellers of a small plane, about to be smuggled out of his native country forever — but not before having a poetic goodbye with the beautiful woman he had to leave behind.
And maybe it was that same woman that Mr Mathis was thinking about on those rainy winter mornings as he looked out into the woods from his classroom, those times when he grew quiet and seemed to disappear to a sadder place.
All those scenarios, of course, didn’t match up with what I actually knew of the man.
With my dad and Mr Mathis starting their teaching careers at Lower Cape May Regional High School roughly around the same time, and becoming good friends in the process, Mr Mathis was a prominent figure in some of my earliest memories. During rehearsals for the school musical, while my dad conducted the pit orchestra, I sat in the dark theater, juice box and Star Wars action figures in hand, taking it all in with awe.
To the six-year-old version of myself, Mr Mathis seemed, in charge of all those actors, musicians and dancers, beyond important. There was an energy he put off I couldn’t quite understand, but I knew it was different and I was fascinated by it.
Not to mention, by the strict guidelines of international kid law, any adult who wears a hat inside a building can be trusted and admired.
By the time I actually attended high school, I was excited to take his class and it was everything I’d hoped for. Mr Mathis introduced me to so many important things in my life, from my favorite musical artist, Arlo Guthrie, to my favorite author, Kurt Vonnegut. His taste was always impeccable and he seemed to have insider info on all the really cool people, places and things in the world. More than that, though, he made you feel as if you could be part of it all. You didn’t have to be an outsider looking in.
Never was his energy and inspiration more evident than on the nights of the musicals and plays that he produced, which were on a level far beyond the typical high school production. Forget Broadway or Hollywood, somehow Mr Mathis made it feel like the entire center of the creative universe was in that South Jersey high school auditorium. Waiting to go on stage with a pinch of his magical mojo dust tucked into your shoe, you felt like you were a part of something special, and more so, that you were special.
At least that’s how Mr Mathis made me feel, and I know I was just one of hundreds, if not thousands, of people who, in one way or another, were also made to feel this way.
And now he’s gone.
I knew it was cancer and I knew it was the hopeless kind. I was prepared for it and my heart went out to his family. We immediately started working on an event to celebrate his life while he was still with us. I wanted so desperately for him to be there, to have all those people he touched in the same room, but it wasn’t meant to be.
When he was told about the concert that his former students and friends were planning for him, shortly before he passed away, Mr Mathis was moved to tears. Knowing he was touched by the idea is enough.
Especially because I know that he’ll still be there. He’s not really gone. It’s impossible for him to be gone because he’s kept alive by the same thing he gave to so many people, over so many years, in so many ways… love. Love keeps you alive as much as air or water does.
If you’re loved — you’re alive. And no one was, or is, more alive than Paul Mathis.
See you in the front row, maestro.
As for the theory of a double life of espionage and intrigue, although I know better, I’m still not completely ruling it out. Knowing Mr Mathis, I think he’d prefer it that way.
The Concert For Mr Mathis, on Saturday, July 13 at Lower Cape May Regional, also features Adam Mcdonough, Old School, Stellar Mojo and special guests. Tickets for the all ages event are available at Mr J’s Music Shop, online at www.mathisconcert.com or at the door on the night of the concert. All proceeds from the event go towards Mr. Mathis’ Family and the Love of Linda Cancer Fund. For more information, to make a financial donation or to contribute a raffle prize please visit mathisconcert.com or call 609-886-4646.)
Ode To A Mentor
The following tribute to Conrad Briant — former Electrical Department Director for Cape May County who passed away on May 28 — was submitted to us by Curtis Bashaw, General Managing Partner of Cape Resorts.
I first met Conrad Briant in the flooded boiler pit of Congress Hall’s basement just before Memorial Day, 1982. I had recently been installed as the hotel’s general manager that season by my grandfather, Carl McIntire. I cant remember now who referred me to Conrad, but I had called 884-4050 to solicit help fixing the hotel’s decrepit and broken hot water heater. It was late at night and guests were arriving the next day.
On the other end of the line I heard a grumble that sounded like a chuckle: “I’ll be right there, young man.” Two seconds later the blue truck pulled into the driveway. As I followed him down to the basement he was already lecturing me. While he sat and tinkered with the electrical components, Conrad proceeded to tell me that Congress Hall was the most important building in Cape May and that I had to promise him that I wouldn’t let anything happen to that building. I made that promise right there in the basement.
After an hour or two and a couple quick runs back to his North Street home for a part or gadget, the old boiler fired up. But the real legacy of that night was having met a man who became like a second father and mentor to me as I began what became my career in Cape May.
Conrad took me under his wing, introducing me to the local leadership in town. “Come on kid, we are going to the C-View,” he would say. I remember meeting Barney Dougherty and Bill Bezaire there.
When I started working on the Virginia Hotel project he offered me strategic advice about politics and the town. When things didn’t go well he would offer that gruff laugh of his, telling me to toughen up — things will work out. Conrad was always there to help. He nursed our finicky fire systems and helped ameliorate the fire department after Congress Hall’s then-leaky roof triggered yet another false alarm. But what he really did was undergird my resolve with his — by showing up with that blue truck when no one else was around, late at night to help a discouraged kid stay on course with a shared vision of seeing Congress Hall restored one day.
After his memorial service at the West Cape May fire hall the other week, I stopped at Congress Hall and walked out on that lawn and looked back at that illuminated, alive hotel. Standing there, looking at that colonnade and the rockers, the building became blurry; the tears had found their way. But what was crystal clear to me just then was that Conrad Briant had showed me how to love that building back to life. And for that I shall be forever grateful.
MAYBE you’ve seen Shark Tank, the Emmy-nominated ABC show that features budding entrepreneurs pitching ideas — for everything from squirrel-shocking bird feeders, burger trucks manned by sexy women, and eyewear made of sustainable wood — to billionaire tycoons (aka, sharks) who can choose to invest in these grass-roots efforts, or pass on the opportunity.
A past contender is a man by the name of Mike Hartwick, who played professional ice hockey overseas and spent his off-seasons surfing in California. When it came time to forgo his board and once again focus on in-the-gym training sessions, he missed the lean physique surfing afforded him. This was the incentive for creating his Surfset Fitness company, which produces surf simulating machines… think surfboards meant for the indoors that mimic the movements of an in-the-water stick, and allow a person to mimic the movements of an in-the-water surfer. One of the Shark Tank moguls, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, took the bait and became an investor, but he wasn’t the only one to take notice.
Enter Judy Heany of Balance Pilates and Yoga Studio on Park Boulevard in West Cape May, which will offer semi-private Surfset classes beginning on a yet-to-be determined date in July (the equipment is still en route to Cape Island). “It’s really fun and really cool,” she told us. “And it’s the kind of workout that makes boredom difficult, because you’re constantly being challenged.”
Judy, a Philadelphia native who suffers from a curvature of the spine, scoliosis, became certified in yoga and pilates instruction as a way to combat her diagnosis. After meeting her husband in Cape May, she spent four years in the Caribbean, teaching yoga and pilates at the Caneel Bay resort in Saint John — a vacation spot for Michael J. Fox, Metallica, and Kevin Bacon — and the Ritz Carlton in Saint Thomas. In 2005, she grew homesick and returned to Cape May (“The beaches are even better here for taking long, meditative walks”), where she opened Balance.
Recently, a client of Judy’s from North Jersey mentioned that she’d been thinking about investing in Surfset, and that it might be a good fit in Cape May. Judy looked it up, and began taking lessons in it herself at a studio in Seaville, where it was love at first, um, plank.
“There is so much you can do with this,” she said, “like conditioning for surfing, or working on balance by doing yoga moves on the board, straight-up core strengthening for the full body, and also cardio, by using it as a step platform.” As for what you can expect to do at Balance? “To start, we’re going to stick with what we’re best at,” Judy said. “Yoga and pilates.”
There will be three Surfset-certified instructors to help you get your feet wet (on dry land), including Andrea Magda, who you might recognize from the yoga classes she teaches on stand up paddleboards on the harbor; surfer/former physical education teacher Lonnie Johnson; and Judy. Classes are $30 each, and open to people of all ages — anyone who wants to improve core strength and balance.
“I am excited to offer this,” Judy said. “It’s one more way to help people feel better in their bodies and about their bodies.”
For more information, check out balancecapemay.com or call 609-884-3001.