Ronald Reagan had a few other things on his mind when we called to ask for his contribution to our recent story on "memories of teachers past." Now that the budget bill's signed, the first military clash of his administration over and he's home from the range, the president penned this response:

I remember with warmth and pleasure, as I'm sure we all do, a number of teachers who played an important part in my growing up years. And yes there was one in particular who made an impact that has stayed with me to this day.

A few months ago, I spoke to him long distance, not knowing it would be our last conversation.

B.J. Fraser came to Dixon (Ill.) high school at the beginning of my sophomore year. To all of us he was something new and different. Young, self-possessed with a quiet and wry sense of humor, he seemed to open new doors that made learning an adventure.

B.J. taught English but the emphasis wasn't on punctuation and sentence structure. Oh, he didn't sluff that off but you discovered he was more interested in originality. He taught us how to think, not what to think.

For some reason the English teacher was always the director of class plays and in charge of the Dramatic Club. In this capacity he was also new and different. We were introduced to Broadway successes such as Philip Barry's "You and I"--my first role under his direction.

He opened the door on a world we'd never thought about before, yet at the same time he was interested in knowing us as individuals. We felt--each one of us--that he knew us and thought of us as friends.

Apparently we weren't wrong because decades later he was aware of where we were and what we were doing. As for us, I've yet to cross paths with a classmate these many years later that the conversation won't get around to B.J.