A lot of teachers are regarded as special, caring and willing to go the extra mile for their students. But to measure the regard people held for John “Keith” Carlton, put all of those descriptions on steroids. He was terrifically uncommon, say co-workers, parents and students.
“He was so unique; he wasn’t normal. But in a good way. In a very good way,” said Boise mom Sam Sandmire, who indicated that Carlton was a huge and positive influence on her two sons. “He just cared about every student, and he held them accountable, too.”
Carlton, 67, died Monday night. He was in his 40th year as a Boise High School teacher and also served as the Braves’ golf coach. He started at Boise in August 1976 after a short stint in the Nampa School District, Boise High Principal Robb Thompson said.
Athletic Director Tracy Leinen was at the hospital when Carlton died, but she declined to discuss details of his death, saying Carlton and his family are private people.
“It wasn’t expected at all,” Leinen said Tuesday. “It hit hard, and it hit fast.
“As a coach, as a teacher, as a person, he’s the best man you could ever ask for.”
In 1998, the Boise High girls’ golf team won the state title.
“The kids he touched weren’t just the athletes,” Sandmire said. “He was the one who took kids in and took an interest in them, no matter what. One of my sons (Spencer Hattabaugh) says, ‘He’s the reason I graduated from Boise High, and now Boise State.’ ”
That’s a common refrain among Boise High alumni, Thompson said.
“He kind of came off as a gruff person with a wicked sense of humor, but he was very kind and very caring,” Thompson said, noting that Carlton spearheaded numerous efforts to promote school spirit and lend a helping hand.
“One of the fundraisers that he did every year for the school and the golf team was to sell holiday turkeys, hams and oranges,” he said. “What a lot of people don’t know is he always ordered extra ... out of his own pocket ... and took those turkeys, hams and oranges to people who couldn’t afford them, or had lost someone or ... just people who were special to him and the school.”
Carlton also “ran what we call the Brave Wave ... all of our apparel. He made tens of thousands of T-shirts over the years” for class reunions, senior night games and other special occasions, Thompson said.
Carlton taught history, government and practical law at Boise High, and “he’s been coaching golf as long as anyone can remember,” Thompson said. “He’s coached some other stuff, too.
“ And he was a life coach to a lot of kids.”
Tributes dotted social media in the hours after he died.
▪ “As a parent, you hope your child’s teachers will make a positive impact in their life. Thank you, Keith, for doing that for mine.”
▪ “Who could possibly make me look forward to my US History class every day? He could. And did. ... He would engage us in ways that seemed to bridge cliques, or defy social stigma, or check our own foolish behaviors borne from our own insecurities.”
▪ “He was everything the term ‘Brave to the Grave’ was about.”
Thompson said the focus in the coming days should be on celebrating the man, not grieving, if at all possible.
He was an icon around Boise High. He was a tremendous part of the institution, and his loss will be devastating to a lot of people.
Robb Thompson, Boise High principal
Boise High was closed for its last day of holiday break Tuesday, and no arrangements have been made for a memorial or other event in his honor, the principal said. Thompson and school counselors will meet with all of Carlton’s classes Wednesday, and students will have the opportunity to meet privately with a counselor or school psychologist.
Carlton was unmarried and had no children, Thompson said.
But then again, “he had thousands of children,” he said.
Kristin Rodine: 208-377-6447