Just as Ishmael was an outsider in Herman Melville's "Moby Dick," Mark Craver identified with that as a basis for his way of life and teachings at Hayfield Secondary, Lake Braddock Secondary and George Mason University. It was his individuality that set him apart.
Craver died of an apparent heart attack on Sunday, Jan. 4, at 47.
Friends remembered those traits as well as his stories and warmth at "A Celebration of Mark Craver's Life," at the Harris Theater on George Mason University campus on Sunday, Jan. 11. It was standing room only in the theater that afternoon.
"Craver was one of the chosen. He was here to help us all," said Steve McDougal, a friend of Craver's and organizer of the gathering.
Craver attended Hayfield Secondary and then went to the College of William and Mary, where he graduated with a degree in philosophy. He also earned a master's degree in English in 1983 and a master of fine arts in 1984 before joining the staff of George Mason University's English department in 1985. He's had several books of poetry published, including "The Problem of Grace," "Seven Crowns for the White Lady of the Other World and Blood Poems" and "They Come for What You Love."
He also taught at Hayfield, starting in the early 1980s, and at Lake Braddock in recent years.
AT THE HARRIS THEATER, the crowd was a mix of current students, past students, friends and colleagues. Al DeFazio, a professor at GMU, taught a class with Craver. In class, they were also joined by Charley Parker, who was one of Craver's dogs, before the university stepped in. Craver stories that DeFazio touched on included a trip to author Ken Kesey's house, a girl selling her blood for Rolling Stones tickets, and Charley Parker being banned from the GMU campus.
"When you remember Mark, remember Mark's stories," he said.
DeFazio was the first of 15 friends that got up and talked about Craver. Many choked back the tears as they spoke. Former Hayfield English teacher Anne Partlow knew Craver's antics at Hayfield. At Hayfield he wrote a poem, "Metaphysics in the Public School," about fellow teachers Partlow and Sue Ann Clark.
"Laughing with him was better than laughing with anyone else. He was my teacher too," Partlow said.
Craver's teaching skills emerged when it came time for Partlow to cover "Moby Dick" with her class years ago.
"He agreed to come in four of my class periods to teach it," she said. "He identified with being the outsider, being the outcast, which was Ishmael and Ahab. He gave me a depth I would not have gotten on my own," Partlow said.
Audra Achiu was a student of Craver's this year at Lake Braddock. Confidence and the importance of people were two lessons she learned in his class. She fought back the tears.
"He loved for us to learn about ourselves. I never imagined death would hurt this much," Achiu said.
Before he died, Craver assigned his Lake Braddock class to do an autobiography. Achiu plans on finishing it.
"I will for myself. It was very much a personal project," she said but added that Craver's teaching will stand above that of other teachers, "not because he tried harder, but because he cared more."
Jacob Perlin was another Lake Braddock student of Craver's. He shared Craver's imitation of a sea turtle with everyone and knew the class and lessons learned will never be the same.
"We weren't done yet. Mr. Craver," he said.
Peter Schepps brought a message from Charley Parker.
"Charley Parker asked me to tell you he couldn't be here today. He was banned from the George Mason campus," Schepps said.
After Craver's death, the students of Lake Braddock painted the rock in front of the school, known as "The Bear," white, in memory of Craver and his love for "Moby Dick."