Everybody I talked with had a story to tell about Milt.
Every so often the "eastside pride" slogan takes life. It happened Wednesday night at the East High School Fieldhouse.
There was huge turnout -- upwards of 1,400 people -- to pay respects for the passing of former principal Milt McPike.
The doors were supposed to open at 5 and close at 8. But there was already a long line by 4:45, and the last well-wisher didn't greet the family until 10 pm. I got there about 6:50 pm and by 8:15 pm, when I had to leave, I had traveled barely a third of the long twisting line to offer condolences to McPike's family.
It was a real Madison mosaic too. Retired teachers, former students, business people, parents, politicos, old people, young people, blacks, Hispanics, Maple Bluffers -- just about everybody. It had to be the most diverse Madison crowd I've ever seen.
If Norman Rockwell were alive, he would have painted the gathering as an iconic image of an American community coming together to honor a fallen hero.
It wasn't sad either. People were talking, celebrating Milt, catching up on old times, showing family pictures, hugging one another. It was one huge eastside reunion that only Milt McPike could convene.
Everybody I talked with had a story to tell about Milt. I certainly know how important he was to my oldest daughter. I also know how this imposing man -- not because he was 6'4" and a former football player but because of his character and compassion -- seemed to hold East High together in moments of crisis.
One of the last times I saw Milt was in spring 2003. He was already retired from 22 years as East's principal. Still, as in years past, he was the speaker at Lapham's kindergarten "graduation," where he told an auditorium full of beaming parents and grandparents that they must stay involved in their children's education.
The little kids were solemn as could be, decked out in East High's purple and gold colors, as McPike and Lapham Principal Barb Thompson told them they were part of a great east side tradition and someday they, too, would graduate from East High.
Those kids are the class of 2015. How lucky they were to experience his presence. The huge outpouring of mourners Wednesday night was one last demonstration of just how much eastsiders revered Milt McPike.