- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 3, 2007

BEL AIR, Md. (AP) — Since Kimmie Meissner moved to the top of the figure-skating world, her high school has been flooded with requests for autographs, appearances, interviews, ribbon cuttings and items for fundraising auctions.

Jim O’Toole, director of student activities at Fallston High School, has served as unofficial press secretary for the skater, who is a senior. He works out of a tiny, windowless office there.

“He’s become the seventh Meissner,” said Miss Meissner, 17. “He’s joined the family.”

Part of Mr. O’Toole’s credenza is filled with letters answered and those waiting for the skater’s attention. Another part holds autographed photos and the “Cool Kids” bracelets Miss Meissner designed to raise money for pediatric cancer patients at Johns Hopkins Hospital and the University of Maryland Medical Center, both in Baltimore. She usually makes time for nonprofit groups.

“She realizes she has a gift, and it’s her duty to use it to benefit others,” Mr. O’Toole said.

Miss Meissner stops by to sign mementos and work on letters. Mr. O’Toole aids the process by highlighting a letter’s major points and suggesting responses. She gets asked a lot about boyfriends.

“I always say I have friends who are boys,” Miss Meissner said, politely avoiding the question. “I never really answer it.”

Mr. O’Toole and Miss Meissner print the replies on letterhead with her name and a pair of figure skates dangling from the end. Each is signed, “Gratefully yours.”

“He’s a godsend,” said Judy Meissner, the skater’s mother. “He’s a teacher who goes that extra step, and it’s not just with Kimmie, it’s with all the kids.”

Principal Kevin Fleming agrees.

“He’s unbelievable,” Mr. Fleming said. “If he’d let us nominate him, he’d be Maryland Teacher of the Year. But he won’t take the spotlight.”

Mr. O’Toole, an English and journalism teacher, has been at Fallston since 1980, the year of the first graduating class. He directed the Print, the school newspaper, for more than 20 years and recently became the teacher of the cooperative-work-experience program.

When Miss Meissner arrived at the school, Mr. O’Toole helped her arrange a schedule and the occasional request from fans.

But last year, in the span of three months, Miss Meissner finished second at the U.S. championships, went to her first Olympics and won the world title.

“It was an overwhelming time for us,” the skater’s mother recalled. “He kept assuring us, ‘Don’t worry, we’ll get it done.’ He went way beyond what he needed to do.”

Miss Meissner appreciated Mr. O’Toole’s enthusiasm and calm approach during the first few months.

“I got a million letters,” she said. “I’d take half home and Mr. O’Toole would take half home, and then we’d swap, trying to read them all and answer them. He seriously picked it up last year.”

Mr. O’Toole said the Meissners stepped it up as well.

“I’m always amazed,” he said. “They always seriously consider every event. They can’t get to all of them, but nothing is ever brushed away.”

It’s not easy to get a smile from Miss Meissner, but Mr. O’Toole can.

“He always tells a joke,” she said. “They’re always terrible, but he laughs at them, and then I do, too.”

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