OBITUARY: James W. Tate III, 69, teacher, lifelong member of Grace Church
James W. Tate III, a lifelong Brooklynite and public school teacher who was active at Grace Church in Brooklyn Heights since his childhood, died on Saturday, August 31 following a brief illness. He was 69.
Born in then-extant Caledonian Hospital in Flatbush, Jim was a boy soprano with the Grace Church Men & Boys Choir starting in early 1950s, during the tenure of the famed Anne Versteeg McKittrick, organist and choirmaster from 1939-1976. After his voice changed he became one of Mrs. McKittrick’s regular page-turners, a position he held until McKittrick’s death in 1976.
McKittrick influenced a number of legendary performers, including the Chapin brothers, guitarist Phil Forbes and other notable Brooklynites who were active in Grace Church’s music life.
A member of Grace Church for about 60 years, Jim continued to be active there until his death, serving as a vestryman, Lay Eucharistic Minister and Visitor, and participating in several Bible studies and other groups. Jim was also for many years a delegate to the Episcopal Diocese of Long Island’s annual convention.
It was at Grace Church that he met his wife, the Brooklyn Eagle’s religion editor Francesca Norsen Tate.
“We had known each other well from the spring of 2000 onwards,” Francesca said. “We were both in Bible study, and we went from Genesis to Revelation.” They completed lay ministries programs together as well. The couple married on May 21, 2005.
“We met at church and shared a love of religion, and he would bring religious issues to my attention,” Francesca said. “Not only of our faith, but the religion I was covering. He would help me with my work. Jim was a voracious reader and greatly interested in the history of religion and the intersection of all those topics.”
A graduate of New Utrecht High School, Jim received his undergraduate degree in history and Constitutional law from St. John’s University when the school was still on Schermerhorn St. in Downtown Brooklyn. He also held a master’s degree in education from Pace University.
Jim taught social studies in the New York City school system for 31 years. Much of that time was spent at James Stranahan Junior High School in Red Hook. By the time he married Francesca, he had been retired for five years. But he still kept up with educational issues, she said. “He did not believe in teaching to the test, but in teaching to learn. He spent a lot of time trying to get his kids passionate about social studies. He kept up with his union as well, the UFT [United Federation of Teachers].”
Francesca recalled that a few years ago, during a recent routine visit to a doctor’s office, the receptionist looked up and said, “Mr. Tate? I was one of your students!” The woman remembered him “well enough to greet him very warmly in my doctor’s office.”
One of Jim’s most distinguishing characteristics was his outspokenness. “He would say what he meant and mean what he said,” Francesca said. “Stories are legend about his outspokenness. He thought nothing of striding up to someone at Grace, but he would never attack the person, only the issue. But he made no bones about telling someone why they were wrong about an issue! Jim would heckle TV news shows, especially if they were about education. He called Bloomberg the anti-education mayor.”
Jim and Francesca enjoyed traveling together up until earlier this year, when he became ill. They traveled to Israel together in 2005 as part of a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, went to Alaska for their honeymoon, and got to see parts of Canada – British Columbia and Montreal. They visited Norway twice, Israel and Palestine twice, all of Scandinavia and Russia, plus made side trips to the U.S., most recently Boston. They were making plans to visit Turkey and Spain when Jim got sick.
When asked how Jim would most like to be remembered, Francesca said, “Definitely for his outspokenness, and for his love of life. He was always smiling, always filled with sunshine. He was a thoughtful man. He would think things through, a very balanced man, rational. He was happy retiring, and did not look back. He moved forward.”
Jim is survived by his wife, Francesca; his sister, Mary E. Tate of San Antonio, Tex; and several cousins.
The funeral will take place Friday, September 6 at 11 a.m. at St. Ann & the Holy Trinity Church (on Montague St. at Clinton St.) because Grace Church is currently undergoing a roof replacement. A private interment will follow at the Green-Wood Cemetery.
In lieu of flowers, donations in his memory may be made to Heights & Hills Community Council; Christian Help in Park Slope; or Grace Church-Brooklyn Heights.
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