There are very few people I have met in my lifetime where I had one meeting and was instantly smitten. Karen Lewis is one of them. In the fall of 2010, I was traveling the country to talk about my somewhat explosive new book “The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education.” Within the world of education, it was a bombshell, because I was renouncing many years of advocacy, switching sides, and losing many friends in the process. On the substantive side, I was explaining and describing the true nature of the powerful movement that would reveal its ugly face later that same year with the release of “Waiting for Superman.”

I had two speaking engagements one week, first in Detroit, then in Los Angeles. I planned to change planes in Chicago. But before I embarked, I got an e-mail from Karen Lewis, whom I had never met. She asked if I would change my flight and arrange a stopover of several hours in Chicago. I did. She and her husband John met me at O’Hare. We drove to a nearby hotel where they had rented time in an empty conference room, and Karen and I talked nonstop for four hours. When we were done, we left as close friends. She is brilliant, funny, passionate, compassionate.

We met from time to time after that and emailed often. She led a historic teachers strike in 2012 to protest the city’s underinvestment in the schools and Rahm Emanuel’s endless school closings. The year before, the legislature had passed a law to curtail teachers’ job rights and prevent teschers’ strikes, saying that a strike vote had to be approved by 75% of the members, thinking that would never happen. This was when Jonah Edelman of Stand for Children showed that he and his organization had sold out to the hedge funders. He engineered the deal and hoped to crush the Chicago Teachers Union (when caught on tape bragging about his coup at the Aspen Ideas Festival, seated next to James Crown, a prominent Chicago equities guy, he had to apologize. The session was about outsmarting the teachers’ unions by buying up the best lobbyists and was titled “If it Could Happen There, it Could Happen Anywhere.”)

The CTU didn’t get 75% of the membership, it got more than 90%. It went out on strike. While the national press was almost universally hostile, hated the very idea of a teachers’ strike, the parents and working people of Chicago supported the teachers.

Ben Joravsky writes here that Karen Lewis was the inspiration for the current wave of walkouts, insurrections, protests, but this time the teachers are winning broad public support. In Chicago, the teachers wore red. Today it is #RedForEd.

Rahm got even with the CTU in 2013 by closing 50 public schools in one day. It too was historic, in an evil way. Charters continued to open.

Karen Lewis planned to run against Rahm for Mayor in 2014–she was far more popular than he and would have likely won. But she discovered she had a malignant brain tumor. Her life changed. She had surgery and survived. Last fall she had a minor strike. She took these blows with courage, dignity and even humor.

I last saw her when The Network for Public Education held its annual meeting in Chicago n 2015. I interviewed her and the video is here. She was physically weak but spiritually strong.

Yes, she showed us that teachers must work in and with their communities to build public support. She said that those ties were essential. She showed us what teachers could do even in the worst of circumstances. And now that she is in the worst of circumstances, we remember her and thank her for her leadership, her example, and the life lessons she taught us.