Grief Stories: Theodore “Tree” Arrington

Theodore “Tree” Arrington was a leader. A giver. A friend. A mentor. A husband and father.

As the founder of Poughkeepsie’s R.E.A.L. Skills Network, Arrington made a real difference in the time he lived.

He died shockingly in April of last year at age 66.

Mural dedicated to Theodore “Tree” Arrington in Family Partnership Center

Yesterday, people gathered to watch the unveiling of a mural at the Family Partnership Center dedicated to honor his legacy.

R.E.A.L Skills Network, which stands for Relationship Empowerment Affirmation Leadership, brought empowerment and education to generations of Poughkeepsie youth.

Nestor Magdalengoitia, a Poughkeepsie artist, had the honor of painting his longtime friend.

“We just connected to different things,” he said. “We talked murals, we talked art, [and] how to be presentable in society.”

The mural pays homage to Malcolm X, the civil rights icon who was a personal hero of Arrington’s.

“Tree was always championing Malcolm X,” he said.

Like Malcolm X, Arrington set out to help fellow people of color advance in a society where they were often at a disadvantage.

Arrington overcame the odds to go from prison to a master’s degree. He founded the after-school and summer program R.E.A.L. Skills Network to help children like him overcome academic and personal hurdles.

Finding Common Cause

Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro spoke to the crowd about how Arrington worked with people from all walks of life to support local youth.

“Like his name, people of all backgrounds found comfort in his branches,” he said. “Even with the most challenging of conversations, he had a way of getting people who might not always think they agree to find that common ground.”

Poughkeepsie Mayor Rob Rolison also spoke to Arrington’s ability to connect with people he differed with.

Poughkeepsie Mayor Rob Rolison speaks of Arrington’s community impact

“What makes a community is when people understand and respect one another, regardless of what their knowledge is versus what your knowledge is,” he said. “He did not know about the city government like I did, and I did not know about the things that he was doing on the ground, that’s a good marriage for two people.”

Family Services CEO Brian Doyle shared how he taught him a lot about black history, particularly about Juneteenth.

County Executive Molinaro paraphrased a quote from Henry David Thoreau in discussing his impact on the community.

“We walked with Tree, and all of us came back a little taller,” he said.

A Father Figure to Many

Cleopatra Jordan, a 27-year-old former mentee of Arrington’s who now carries on his legacy by working at the program he founded, spoke of his impact.

“Those things that I have learned, have literally guided and formed me into the woman I am today,” she said.

Cleopatra Jordan of R.E.A.L. Skills speaks while Family Services CEO Brian Doyle and Arrington’s widow Sharon look on

Mayor Rolison saw firsthand when he met Arrington how much children loved him at an event for R.E.A.L. Skills.

“He was sitting there with children coming up to him, and then I realized what this guy was all about,” he said. “You could see the absolute love that the individuals in that room had for this man.”

Arrington was also a father of four himself. His wife of 45 years, Sharon Arrington, shared how she is trying to move forward from the loss of her larger than life husband.

“I’m doing a lot better than I was,” she said. “He was my everything. We were everything to each other.”

This special Father’s Day edition of “Grief Stories” tells the story of Theodore “Tree” Arrington, a father figure to generations of Poughkeepsie’s children, as told by those who knew him best.

Published by Mallika Rao

Freelance Writer, Blogger

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