Eric to some, Dr. McLaren to others, died today, June 6, 2014, following a courageous four-year battle with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), or Lou Gehrig’s disease.
An IMSA charter staff member, Eric began as a Resident Counselor (1986-88) and was subsequently promoted to Head Resident Counselor (1988-90), Coordinator of Residential Life (1990-96), Assistant Principal/Coordinator of Community Learning (1996-99), and Principal (1999-2012). He was named VP for Academic Programs in 2004 and continued serving in that role until early 2013. As Principal and VP for Academic Programs, Eric was responsible for ensuring quality instruction through supervision and development of the IMSA Faculty as well as the integrity of the academic/residential program. In all of his roles, he excelled.
“Eric’s legacy is extraordinary,” said IMSA President Cathy Veal, who hired Eric in 1986 and worked closely with him through the years to advance IMSA’s legislative charges and mission. “His name is on so much of what makes IMSA, IMSA, including our standards of significant learning, our faculty model of professional development and collaborative accountability, personalized learning, student inquiry and research, and student leadership development,” she said. “We have lost a very special educator and man.”
IMSA Principal Branson Lawrence, another long-time colleague of Eric’s, said: “Eric had a unique understanding of the needs, hopes and aspirations of IMSA students and their families, grounded in his early years as a resident counselor. His student- and parent-related responsibilities and relationships were among his most fulfilling. I learned so much from him, lessons I apply every day in my work now. As one example, I continue his tradition of greeting every new student and their parents personally on the first day of school.”
Eric’s and IMSA’s ALS journey, including our partnership with the incredible organization Project A.L.S., http://www.projectals.org/, was chronicled in the Fall/Winter 2011 IMSA360 magazine, pp. 20-26, https://www.imsa.edu/sites/default/files/upload/2776_IMSA360_Fall2011.pdf.
Eric was the invited Commencement Speaker for IMSA’s Class of 2012. Though not able to attend in person, his words and wisdom, drawn from previous speeches, called all present to a high purpose: http://vimeo.com/43388392
In January 2012, the IMSA Fund for Advancement of Education established an endowed fund in Eric’s honor, the Eric McLaren Endowment for Integrative Learning and Ethical Leadership. This was seeded by a major gift from alumni Jessica Droste Yagan '95 and Sam Yagan '95, who said: "We have both been extraordinarily fortunate to benefit from the 'IMSA way' of learning and recognize Eric's unique role in creating and nurturing this special environment. With the support of Kim and his family, he has given generously of his heart and mind to IMSA for more than 25 years. It is a debt we cannot repay to him but we hope that others will join us in following his example to invest in future generations of IMSA community members who like him, will use their talent and compassion to advance the human condition."
In April 2012, at IMSA’s 25th Anniversary Gala, Eric received the “Shining Light Leadership Award,” presented by the IMSA Fund Board of Directors. This special award, given every five years, honors “individuals who demonstrate strong and enduring leadership on behalf of the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy and an unparalleled commitment to IMSA's vision, mission and legislative charges. Recipients are leaders whose exemplary service spans at least a decade and whose ardent conviction helps ensure the institution's integrity, success and sustainability.”
Several years ago, members of the President’s Management Council took the StrengthsQuest™ inventory, http://www.strengthsquest.com/home.aspx. Eric’s top five strengths – connectedness, responsibility, relator, learner, belief – will sound familiar to those who knew him well:
• Connectedness. “You are considerate, caring, and accepting. Certain of the unity of humankind, you are a bridge builder for people of different cultures.”
• Responsibility. “[you] take psychological ownership for anything you commit to, and whether large or small, you feel emotionally bound to follow it through to completion…This conscientiousness… and your impeccable ethics, combine to create your reputation: utterly dependable.”
• Relator. “For you a relationship has value only if it is genuine. And the only way to know that is to entrust yourself to the other person. The more you share with each other, the more you risk together. The more you risk together, the more each of you proves your caring is genuine. These are your steps toward real friendship, and you take them willingly.”
• Learner. “… you will always be drawn to the process of learning. The process, more than the content or the result, is especially exciting for you. You are energized by the steady and deliberate journey from ignorance to competence.”
• Belief. “you have certain core values that are enduring…Your Belief makes you easy to trust. It also demands that you find work that meshes with your values. Your work must be meaningful; it must matter to you. And guided by your Belief theme it will matter only if it gives you a chance to live out your values.”
At IMSA, Eric found meaningful work where he lived out his values for 26 years.
Eric McLaren enriched our lives and made so many of us better learners, better leaders, better educators, better colleagues and better people. IMSA Titans near and far know what this means.
As we grieve, we also reflect with gratitude on the many good times we shared with Eric and the many gifts he gave us.
We hold in our hearts his wife Kim McLaren, née Vitek, who worked at IMSA in the 1990s as a resident counselor and as coordinator of student activities, their amazing sons, EJ, Tyler and Cael, their dog Peyton, mother-in-law Joanne Vitek, an IMSA retiree, other family members and close friends.
Rest well, Eric. We will miss you.