SOUTH PORTLAND – During his more than two decades as assistant principal at South Portland’s Memorial Middle School, Michael Eastman left an indelible mark on countless students.

“At points (students) feared Mike, at points they loved Mike, but they all learned from Mike,” said Alan Hawkins, the school’s former principal who is now superintendent of Cape Elizabeth schools, during a celebration of Eastman’s life. “Mike was a teacher.”

About 600 people gathered at South Portland High School last weekend to remember Eastman, a longtime educator who died Sept. 14 after suffering a heart attack. Eastman, 69, was completing his second term as the District 3 representative on the South Portland Board of Education.

Eastman’s former students and colleagues, as well as friends and family, took the stage Sunday at the high school’s Performing Arts Center to share memories of a man devoted to helping children learn.

“Mike Eastman was the perpetual educator,” said Suzanne Godin, superintendent of South Portland schools.

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Whenever the board had to consider expelling students, said Ralph Baxter Jr., Eastman’s colleague on the school board, Eastman always took the opportunity to talk to them and try to help them learn from their mistakes.

“Mike was all about kids,” said Baxter.

That was the way Eastman operated in the 22 years he was assistant principal at Memorial, according to former colleagues and students.

Two of Eastman’s former students, both now adults, said he was a man who inspired both respect and affection.

Caleb Collins, himself now a high school teacher, said he still thinks of his former middle school assistant principal as “Mr. Eastman.”

“That ‘Mr.’ was well-earned, given the role he played in the lives of students,” Collins said.

He recalled how Eastman would stand at the school door each day and greet students as they entered. “With him you always felt welcomed, like you belonged and like you were a worthwhile part of the community,” Collins said.

Stephanie Smart-Jackson also was one of Eastman’s students.

“He was as tough as nails,” she recalled.

However, she said, students were afraid of doing something wrong more because they didn’t want to disappoint him than because of his discipline.

And when her father died of a heart attack, Eastman helped her cope, Smart-Jackson said. “He was…my rock,” she said. “He was so much more to me than an administrator.”

Former students and colleagues said that even though Eastman was a strict disciplinarian, he was very fair.

Ralph Newell Jr., a longtime friend and former colleague, said Eastman “had the ability to get people to do what they should do when they didn’t want to do it in the first place.”

Newell recalled a time about 30 years ago when he was teaching at Memorial. Eastman disciplined three boys by making them stay in school and study while the other students went on a field trip to Great Diamond Island.

Newell said the June day was fiercely hot and the three students were moping in his classroom and not studying. Eastman came to check on them, and called them into his office.

Newell later went to see how the boys were doing and found them with Eastman in his office. The boys all were studying their books – but they were sitting as they read with their pants rolled up, their shoes and socks off, blissfully cooling their feet in a water-filled children’s wading pool.

“That was the quintessential Mike,” Newell said.

Educators and students weren’t the only ones to pay tribute to Eastman on Sunday. Eastman retired from the South Portland schools in 1999, but he also worked for the Immigration and Naturalization Service and then about four years ago became a deputy judicial marshal for the Maine court system.

Those who worked alongside him in those jobs – including Chief Justice Thomas E. Humphrey of the Maine Superior Court – described Eastman as a hardworking, committed professional who also was kind and caring.

Humphrey said he developed an “abiding affection and respect” for Eastman as he saw him at work. Humphrey particularly praised the calming, supportive way that Eastman handled residents called to be in jury pools.

“He was part of our court family…and we will miss him very much,” Humphrey said.

Eastman’s daughter, Alynne “Lynne” Eastman Joys, also spoke at the event. Eastman, a Moxie-loving, avid gardener who lived on Chapel Street, was married to Linda Eastman, his wife of more than 40 years, and also had a son, Chad Eastman.

Lynne Eastman said, “My dad was the most remarkable man I’ve ever known. He was not only my father, but also my friend.”

Her father left her with many lessons, but one particularly with always be with her, Eastman said.

“Life is what you make it,” she said. “No one owes you a thing.”

Michael Eastman


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