Read news articles following Helen's death on December 27, 2002
Letter from Rod to Helen regarding a local staging of Patterns
Posing with Rod at a meeting of the New
York State English Teachers on October 1, 1974.
Helen Foley and Rod Serling met in 1937, when she taught him Public Speaking at Binghamton's West Junior High School (now West Middle School). "I thought he was going be an actor," she says. "He was a great speaker."
She had a profound influence on him, and Serling happily acknowledged it many times, including in a remarkable 1968 Binghamton Central High School commencement speech, and by naming characters in his stories after her.
In turn, Ms. Foley helped found the Rod Serling Memorial Foundation and has spent much effort getting monuments to Rod Serling erected all over Binghamton—to acknowledge how her most successful student fulfilled a teacher's fondest fantasy...
Rod Serling took the communications skills that Helen Foley taught him, and used them to Do Good in the world.
A note from the webmaster: The label Playwright accurately describes the way that Serling and his fellow dramatists of 1950s Television used their exciting new medium. Even when he was being funny, Rod Serling never wrote sitcoms. Without his grand style of drama, TV has truly become the 'Vast Wasteland' that Serling feared it might.
(center) with her sister and Andy Polak
Rod Serling's Star at the (future) Binghamton Walk of Fame, in
Walking Distance monument
in Recreation Park
PHOTOS OF HELEN: scroll up to the top of this page
Teaching Legend Helen Foley Dies
Rod Serling's mentor was 90
BY GREG ERBSTOESSER
Press & Sun-Bulletin
December 28, 2002
Helen Foley taught for 42 years in Binghamton.
BINGHAMTON -- Helen M. Foley, whose name is synonymous locally with famed television writer and actor Rod Serling -- one of her former students -- died early Friday morning at her West Side apartment.
Miss Foley died of cancer, which had been discovered
following a stroke she suffered in September, family members said. She was
Relatives and friends described Miss Foley as an icon of teaching with more than four decades in the classroom. She was also remembered as a driving force in promoting the arts and pushing a person to give his or her best.
Miss Foley literally taught thousands in her 42-year teaching career in the Binghamton City School District, and she was a permanent influence on many.
"Helen Foley was a giant in her field, and her education affected not only her students but generations of people, not only here but the entire country," former Binghamton school Superintendent James Lee said.
"She influenced so many writers, including Rod Serling; her death is a real loss," Lee said.
In a fitting salute to his mentor and former teacher, Serling even named one of his characters -- a teacher -- Helen Foley, in a Twilight Zone episode that aired in April 1960, said longtime friend Larry Kassan, Binghamton High School director of special projects. Kassan also oversees the Helen M. Foley Theatre at Binghamton High, and the Rod Serling Video Festival.
Long after she retired, Kassan said, Miss Foley continued to help him with school and theatrical projects.
Gene Grey, former Press & Sun-Bulletin features writer, said Miss Foley was a legend. "She was such a sweet lady," Grey said. He quipped, "I think everybody in Binghamton had her as a teacher."
Grey noted that although Miss Foley was strict, she had a talent to "encourage even shy people and those who never thought of performing to being on the stage."
Grey said many people considered Miss Foley their role model.
David G. Rossie, Press & Sun-Bulletin columnist and associate editor, once was a student of Miss Foley's. He described her as a teacher, a friend and an inspiration.
"I guess the number of people who could truthfully say that would fill a good-sized auditorium. Generations of Binghamton children came out of school better than they were going in because of her," Rossie said. "You can't ask for a better testament to a teacher than that."
Miss Foley retired in 1979. In 1986, the city school district dedicated its high school auditorium the Helen M. Foley Theatre.
Miss Foley also was a founding member of the Rod Serling Foundation, an organization whose focus is to promote Serling's works. Both she and Serling have stars on the Binghamton Walk of Fame to recognize their accomplishments.
Miss Foley, who never married, is survived by a sister, Norma Lawson of Binghamton, and a large family of nieces and nephews.
The funeral will be private. A memorial service, open to the public, is planned for 10 a.m. Jan. 17 at St. Patrick's Catholic Church, 9 Leroy St., Binghamton. A reception will follow at the Binghamton Regency Hotel and Conference Center, One Sabro Square.
Memorial donations may be made to Broome County Head Start.
Henry Brooks Adams, a 19th century writer,
once observed: "A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where
his influence stops." Exhibit A: Helen Foley, from whose modest Binghamton
classrooms sprang generations of students who have carried her influence
around the world.
A few of those students achieved fame -- playwright and Twilight Zone creator Rod Serling foremost among them -- but most went on to so-called normal lives, albeit better equipped for them for having studied under her.
Foley taught English, public speaking, drama
and literature in Binghamton schools for 42 years. Along with Serling, her
students included actors Richard Deacon (best known as "Mel Cooley"
on television's Dick Van Dyke Show) and John Conboy, television producer
Harvey Bullock, musician and BC Pops founder David Agard, dancer and instructor
Helen Yelverton and artist Robert Keller. And as another of her students,
Press & Sun-Bulletin associate editor and columnist David Rossie, once
observed, "For every 'name' artist she inspired, Helen touched the
lives of thousands of other students. Whether it was a role in a school
play, the discovery of an Edna St. Vincent Millay poem or an Edgar Allan
Poe short story, there have to be legions out there who can recall a Helen
Foley moment that illuminated their school days."
Indeed. And those tales will be told again when those students learn of Helen Foley's death on Friday at the age of 90.
Foley retired from teaching in 1979 but remained active in the local arts scene, supporting all manner of drama, dance and music. She also became the guiding spirit of the Rod Serling Foundation, which established a Walk of Stars to honor Broome County residents who went on to notable careers. She received her own star in 1997. The Binghamton School District named the high school auditorium (where she had directed so many plays) the Helen Foley Theater.
She also lives on in Serling's work, not just a character name in some of his tales but as the teacher who unlocked that magnificent imagination and encouraged him not just to write but to aim high.
Upon learning of her death, David Rossie said, "Helen Foley was a teacher, a friend, an inspiration. I guess the number of people who could truthfully say that would fill a good sized auditorium. Generations of Binghamton children came out of school better than they were going in because of her. You can't ask for a better testament to a teacher than that."
No, you can't.
She didn't teach me to read -- my mother did that -- but Helen Foley taught me that assigned reading could be fun as well as challenging. Fortunately I encountered Helen before I encountered Silas Marner, otherwise I might have sworn off reading for life.
Helen (I didn't get to call her that until long after I left school, and then only because we were distant cousins) was the kind of teacher who inspired playwrights. And Helen inspired one named Rod Serling, who worshiped her and wove her into some of his works.
There were others whose artistic fires she fed during her 42 years as an English teacher and drama coach: Television comic Richard Deacon, the actor John Conboy, and television producer Harvey Bullock, to name a few. They were the stars, but they were not her sole beneficiaries.
Just about all of us, I'd guess, who passed through her classroom left it a little bit better, if for no other reason than the discovery that learning didn't have to be painful: that it could, in fact be pleasant.
Helen never married, but she had an extended family that reached far beyond her hometown. Her summer place in Nicholson, Pa., which she called The Creamery --because that's what it was before she turned it into an antique-filled hideaway --became a salon that attracted theater types, academics and even some normal people.
Helen was no Mr. Chips type teacher. Far from it. She had a love of the language that is born into the Irish and she had an Irish temper to go with that gift. And if there was something about which she did not have an informed opinion I don't know what it was.
You could disagree with her, but if you did you'd better have your argument down pat. Otherwise you'd be in for some heavy weather.
Helen liked to hold court. She wouldn't admit it, of course, but that is what she did. Whether it was lunch at Edigans or the annual Binghamton High School Distinguished Graduates dinner, she drew crowds. Icon has become an overworked word of late. We use it to describe movie actors whose flame has flickered for more than 15 minutes, but Helen fit the description by any measure.
In 1986, after Binghamton High School was renovated, the auditorium became the Helen Foley Theater, and a decade later her name was added to the luminaries in downtown Binghamton's Walk of Stars.
Helen died on Friday after a brief illness that probably didn't seem brief. She leaves a sister, Norma, a nephew, Michael Butler and enough admirers to fill a phone book.
During one of our get-togethers last year I mentioned coming across a wire story that the Catholic Church had banned the singing of her favorite song, Danny Boy, at church funerals because it is not a religious song. Helen did not take the news lightly.
On Jan. 17, starting at 10 a.m., there will be a memorial service for Helen at St. Patrick's Church in Binghamton. Unless that grand old building has an earthquake-proof foundation, I'd suggest they waive the rule on Danny Boy.
Rossie is associate editor of the Press & Sun-Bulletin. His column appears on Sunday, Wednesday and Friday. Write to him c/o P.O. Box 1270, Binghamton, N.Y. 13902-1270.