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  1. Florida

St. Pete drama teacher made an impact at a critical stage for his students

Murray Mintz told it like he saw it, for better or worse

Standing backstage, Becca McCoy started to sing. It was the 13-year-old’s call back audition for St. Pete High’s 1993 spring production of Fiddler on the Roof. She was terrified, particularly of the drama teacher who stood there listening with a severe look on his face.

But this time, she hit all the notes.

“Ah well, there we go,” Murray Mintz said when she finished, sounding bemused. “Wasn’t sure if you could sing on key.”

Mr. Mintz cast McCoy in the prime role of Golde, and she spent the next four years loving and hating the drama teacher who never lowered his expectations or spared his students’ feelings.

Mr. Mintz died on Feb. 6 of a heart attack. He was 79.

He grew up in New York and subbed his way into an English and drama position at Orchard Park High School in a Buffalo suburb in 1968. In 1987, he came to St. Pete High.

McCoy often clashed with her drama teacher in her four years at St. Pete. She wasn’t owed anything, he’d tell her. She had to work for what she wanted.

Former social studies teacher Susan Cooper remembers Mr. Mintz telling his students: “You are a dime a dozen. If you can’t get this right and learn your lines, I’ll find somebody else who can do it.”

But for McCoy, now a professional actor, his standards were worth meeting and his approval worth winning.

Mr. Mintz’ colleagues got to see a different side of him, even if it was still brutally honest.

“He loved those kids,” said Cooper, who helped chaperone the trip to the state drama festival each year.

A photo of Murray Mintz, looking serious, in the 1994-95 drama club scrapbook.

Mr. Mintz retired in 2001, and Michael Vasallo, who had been a student in the drama program at Gibbs High School in the 1990s, stepped into the role. He remembered the intimidating teacher, but he found a veteran who encouraged the then-23-year-old to find his own style and nudged him into leadership roles.

“Some of us called him ‘Pops,’ ” said Randall Delone Adkison, an actor and president of the Florida Association for Theatre Education, also known as FATE. Mr. Mintz served as executive director starting in 2002. “He didn’t necessarily like that moniker, but for many of us, he was like a father figure.”

Mr. Mintz didn’t like recognition, either. (He probably wouldn’t think much of this story.) But his work with FATE helped teachers and students across the state. Florida is now held up nationwide as an example of what drama programs can be, said Vasallo, now principal at Dunedin Middle School.

The lesson Mr. Mintz taught his colleagues was the same one he taught his students – things worth having are worth working hard for.

After she graduated, McCoy often looked out into the audience and saw her former drama teacher there. Once, he came backstage with a gift.

For the past 20 years, before a show, McCoy has set up her dressing station with a photo of her and her daughter, trinkets from her career and a small medallion.

It’s St. Genesius – the patron saint of actors – from Mr. Mintz, a man who quietly shined for many people in the best supporting role.

Senior news researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Want to know more about Mr. Mintz? Head over to Instagram and @werememberthem and see how his former school is planning to honor him. Know someone who has recently died whom we should write about? Send suggestions to Kristen Hare at