Phil Roy
by Kristin Millis
special to The Times-Independent
May 03, 2012 | 1549 views | 0 0 comments | 6 6 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Phil Roy
Phil Roy
Former elementary school teacher Phil Roy said his classroom was always the creepy, crawly one.

“When children brought a lizard or snake to school, the other teachers would say, ‘You can’t bring that into my classroom. Take it to Mr. Roy’s class,’” he said. Roy would set up a terrarium and the reptile would have a new home.

Roy worked as a teacher at Helen M. Knight Intermediate and Red Rock Elementary in Moab for a combined 20 years. He retired in 2002, when the fatigue from Multiple Sclerosis began to affect his ability to teach. “I felt like I couldn’t give 100 percent,” he said.

His daughter, Laura Roy Blevins, recalls an 18-inch gopher snake that she found in their yard when she was a toddler. She named it Slimer. Her father took the snake to his classroom to live. By the time Roy retired 13 years later, the snake was nearly six feet in length. It was released into the wild at the Island in the Sky District of Canyonlands National Park.

“I’m definitely not afraid of snakes. He taught me to value wildlife and nature. He set me on the path that I’m now on,” said Blevins, now 25, who is studying medicine at the National College of Natural Medicine in Portland, Oregon. “He taught me to be respectful of plants, to not walk on the crypto. Now I am learning how to use nature in medicine.”

Roy was raised in Monterrey, Calif., and graduated from Chico State University. He went to Australia to teach school for two years. While he was there his left leg began to drag, causing him to limp. He visited a neurologist, who called it “foot drop,” a symptom of multiple sclerosis, an auto-immune disorder characterized by an overactive immune system that attacks the myelin sheath of nerves, causing nerve weakness and damage.

The diagnosis didn’t limit Roy’s adventurous spirit.

When his brother offered him his job at a school in Elk City, Idaho, he took it. For a year, he worked as principal and head teacher at the small school, which had only 98 students. The next year he pushed cattle in Three Creek, Idaho.

In 1978, he followed a wife to Moab. She had a teaching contract at Helen M. Knight. She broke the contract mid-year and left town. Roy stayed.

He pushed cattle for local ranchers and subbed for teachers in the school district in the first few years. He also rowed the daily stretch of the Colorado River and did jeep tours for Mitch and Mary Williams at Tag-A-Long.

“Moab could be scorching hot in the summer, but here we have a river running right through town.” Roy said. “The river made Moab bearable because you could get wet and play.”

Roy enjoyed his time working on the river. He liked to start water fights with tourists. During low water he’d stop for lunch at a sand bar and tell the tourists he could walk across the river.

“I knew the sandbar stretched into the river,” he said. “I’d step off the bank and walk across using a little showmanship. Some of it was ankle deep, some of it was knee deep.”

Roy also picked up tourists at Hite after Cataract Canyon tours. He would drive only dirt roads, creating a three-day trip back to Moab.

“Most of the tourists were flatlanders. Their eyes were already rolling around from being on Cataract, but they were equally blown away by how rugged the landscape was on the drive,” he said. “I’d take them to the edge. We’d go over some hairy stuff.”

In 1981, he got a contract to teach at Helen M. Knight. He stayed 10 years. He then moved over to Red Rock Elementary and worked there an additional 10 years. He kept his saddle from his cowboy days in his classroom and when children finished their class work early they were allowed to sit in the saddle and read.

“I thought it would be a fun thing for the kids,” he said. “It was a reward to sit on the saddle.”

Even as a teacher, Roy still found time to play outside.

“He gave a me a wonderful childhood,” said Blevins. “We would go on adventures. We hiked. We canoed. We went on ATVs.”

He found a jet boat with a 40-horse power engine. “It allowed me to go up and down the daily,” he said. “I could go down to the confluence, and then up to Green River in a half a day. We could camp where ever we wanted, or come home by the end of the day.”

Roy and his daughter raised chickens and pigeons. “It felt like a farm even though we were only a block off Main Street,” she said of their home on 200 North. The two would release the tumbler pigeons in Spanish Valley and race the birds home. The birds usually won.

Roy moved to Orchard Villa when he realized he couldn’t climb steps anymore.

He rarely walks now, as MS has affected his balance. He uses an electric scooter to get around the house and takes a half-mile “walk” each day in his wheelchair to exercise his upper body. His cat, Peppercorn, follows him on the daily stroll. When the weather is good he swims in the pool at the condominium complex.

“He likes to tinker in the garage,” said Patrice Mott, one of his caregivers. “We are always asking him, ‘can you fix this for us?’ And he always does.”

Roy grew up with a father who knew how to use tools. His garage is filled with tools he uses to make his life easier.

“I never felt imprisoned by the world. If something was broken, my dad would say, ‘That’s okay, we can fix it,’” he said. “Knowing how to use tools has made me feel more empowered.”

Roy put a larger battery on a tricycle: A three-wheel bike with a battery and motor. The three wheels offer more stability for Roy’s balance issues. He can pedal the bike as far as his energy allows, then when he is tired he can turn on the motor and ride home. He also equipped his Ford van with hand controls so he could still drive.

Blevins said that the way her dad has handled having Multiple Sclerosis has been a great inspiration to her. “He lived so fully that by age 30 [that] he did more than most do in their whole lives. Now he has memories to relive,” she said. “He taught me to live my life to the maximum.”

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