Service of Nice

April 13th, 2017

Categories: Memorials, Nice, School

John Wyeth at Harlem Link School

John Wyeth at Harlem Link School

Telling someone that their blind date is “nice” was, in the day, code for the man/woman is either ugly, dumb, addicted to some substance or a combination. That was in my salad days.

Over the years, as the literal “nice” applies to increasingly fewer people, the word has come to mean what it should and is positive and precious to me.

Given my appreciation of all things nice, you’ll soon see why I jumped when I read a good friend Deirdre Wyeth’s Facebook post about the school at which her dear husband John had worked and the reason I asked if I might post what they did to remember him. John died last fall, far too soon.

Deirdre wrote on Facebook: “The wonderful people at Harlem Link Charter School, where John worked for almost 10 years, held a celebration this evening in memory of him. There were in-person and video tributes, a song by one of the students, and a buffet based on what he brought for lunch every day: pb&j, wheat thins and grapes in a brown bag.

“They also created a plaque for him [photo below]. And especially wonderful, they announced they will name an award for a graduating student in his honor – and the award is for niceness. How perfect is that? Such a moving and emotional evening. Thanks to all!”

On its website Harlem Link describes itself as a “Pre-K to 5 public charter school that has offered a high quality educational choice to families in Harlem since 2005. Our school attains high levels of academic achievement in a safe, nurturing environment through a well-rounded curriculum.” In another section I read: “We also pay attention to details that too many public schools ignore, such as the consistency with which teachers use language from grade to grade to build a common culture and the quiet tone of our hallways.”

Quiet hallways. Wow. What’s quiet in NYC and with children around?

Being nice was just one of the wonderful and particular things about John. In addition to writing plays and being a topnotch school administrator, he loved ragtime and being a dad. Of the many children in his life his brilliant, lovely daughter May benefited most from his creativity, composure and his pride in her accomplishments.

The Nice Award caught my attention for another reason. I’ve mentioned before that I was designated “Best Camper” at my overnight camp at aged 8, a concept considered so yesterday in today’s competitive world. The tangible reward was a magnificent, special lollipop—I’d not tasted a more delicious one before nor have I since. I think the recognition was for similar reasons as the John Wyeth Nice Award. I relate and am pleased to see appreciation for such characteristics returning.

We mostly reward celebrity, financial success, physical beauty, the four star restaurant and the people who get all A’s. How many institutions recognize–and honor–the nicest person in the group?

John Wyeth Plaque

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6 Responses to “Service of Nice”

  1. Pat Baird Said:

    I’m listening to the Dr. Dao press conference and was just thinking about you! [Note: Dr. Dao was yanked down the aisle and off the United Airlines plane earlier this week. Pat shot off an email on seeing the subject of this post.]

  2. Jeanne Byington Said:


    Some contrast to the Nice Award. The police in question should be sent for a semester to the Harlem Link School.

  3. hb Said:

    What a fitting tribute! It’s also nice to know that “nice” is back. I’ve missed the word. Now if we could only resurrect George Bush Senior’s “kinder, gentler world.” It’s just as missed, if not more so.

    To answer your last question, 65 years ago when I graduated, the most prestigious award handed out at commencement by Phillips Academy, Andover was the Sterns Prize for niceness. They didn’t call it that, but that is what it was — the boy who made the school a better place to be. I don’t know about now. It would be interesting to know if it still is the most prestigious prize.

  4. Jeanne Byington Said:


    How thrilling to predict that John Wyeth’s award might achieve the same prominence at Harlem Link as Mr. Stern’s Prize did at Andover and that children so many years from now will be equally proud to receive it.

  5. Lucrezia Said:

    I am neither familiar with the late John Wyeth nor his career, but after having learned of his accomplishments, would have considered the term “nice” as inaccurate. If anything his life might be described as highly productive, and his character as “good.” “Nice” is a pale word and not worthy of so effective a person.

    I admit to be totally ignorant of code words, so this is the first I hear that ugly = nice!

  6. Anonymous Said:


    Nice may be a pale word but with so many at one another’s’ throats these days it is a word that carries a tremendous amount of relief. Of course John’s life and his impact on those who knew and loved him was far more than nice. Yet for a school like the Harlem Link appears to be, it couldn’t have bestowed a greater honor on this man who clearly meant so much to the students and administration in all good ways.

    As for the word having so many more negative than positive meanings in my youth when it came to introducing a person of one sex or persuasion to another, the ugly implication was more of how men interpreted it than I suspect women did. In any case, there was nothing positive about telling someone, “You’ll really like so and so. He/she is nice.” If the person was great, you’d say so by being specific. “You’ll have such fun with so and so. He/she is a hoot–greatest sense of humor–and smart and like you, enjoys _______.”

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