A Tribute

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*** A TRIBUTE ***

 by Beverly Smith Zacharias 

 

Presented June 17, 1995

at AHS 1955 40th Class Reunion 

Jack O’Brien    *    Thelma Plant    *     Billy Bragg

I don’t know if we were luckier than most - I just know we were so very fortunate to have teachers that taught us much more than Typing, Algebra, Latin or English ... they taught us life and how to live it.  And what they gave us surely did not stop within us - but in more ways than we’ll ever realize, we have passed their lessons on to our children and grandchildren. 

It certainly doesn’t bother me, but if it does you, please give Mr. Longfellow a bit of understanding if you think he is not politically correct when he says,  

“Lives of great men - all remind us - We can make our lives sublime; and departing, leave behind us footprints - on the sands of time …”

… and they DID - their lives are a legacy to us.

Tonight we have set aside this time to honor 3 teachers who were always there for us, and are still, even in death.  Somehow, I hope they can hear their tribute tonight ... wouldn’t be surprised if they can!  And I hope - that somewhere along the way - I conveyed to them at least part of what I am about to say tonight.

  I attended classes of all three.  I sat in the front of Coach O’Brien’s class - there weren’t that many of us in summer school!  Ms. Randitt had tried her best to make Algebra stick in my head - but I had a life-long aversion to math.  Ma Hudson once told me, “Beverly, you can’t do math worth a lick, but then I can’t play the organ like you can” ... so you can understand, our Hollywood handsome Coach had a nearly impossible task with me.  Whatever he taught me that summer, I have long since forgotten - what I do remember, is that he got me through it with a grade good enough to please my unhappy parents.  But my fondest memories of Coach were at Albany First Methodist - seeing him usher - he was always there - always dedicated to his church.  And I’ve been told - that never changed - he was there even in his wheelchair.  Wayne Kennedy was good enough to call me in Atlanta, and he remembers Coach’s great spirit the night he was honored with a Dove Awards Dinner Banquet.  He also remembers him as an outstanding basketball coach, teacher, and educator, who believed in DISCIPLINE by the “BOARD” of EDUCATION.  Wayne remembers personally that when someone was beckoned to the front of the class for LICKS, they were given a choice ... of 1, 2, 3, or even 5 licks!  Some of you may recall - to choose 5 licks was to choose 5 pretty good ones - but to choose 1 lick - well that was a WHOPPER, and it resounded throughout the halls!

I asked Jackie Clark to name his favorite teacher ... his immediate response was, Coach O’Brien ... he taught me everything I knew.”  Coach was a great man ... a man we all loved and admired.

  I sat about in the middle of Thelma Plant’s class - but it wasn’t really what went on in her classroom that stands out in my mind - it was my experiences in Tri Hi Y.  I don’t remember the actual CREED or PURPOSE, other than serving God and community; but I do remember swallowing real hard when she had me sign the dreaded Tri Hi Y pledge - which of course meant, by merely signing, I was assured of remaining a “proper young lady.”

Thelma was a great counselor - she was full of great ideas, and was quite the motivator.  But when I approached her about my wonderful and unique idea for a moneymaking project,  I thought at first she was choking on something!  Her eyes popped, and her mouth dropped when I suggested a “Powder Puff football game” - the first EVER in Georgia!  For one of the few times in her life, she was at a loss for words!  But I continued explaining my plan - we’d ask Mr. Mac, Mr. Cordell and Taxi Smith, our mayor, to be referees … interested football players would be the coaches, and various and sundry other guys would dress as cheerleaders (now this was BEFORE we knew that drag would EVER mean anything other than the phrase, “stag or drag”).  But Thelma, as usual, let us spread our wings and test the waters.  And that game brought in over $500 – in the fall of  1954!

She lived for Tri Hi Y and she loved her girls.  But it was the boys she loved, and whom she requested to serve as her pallbearers at her funeral - even one of our own, Lawson Vann.  And these adult men were as DISTINCT and DISSIMILAR as they could possibly be.  Thelma lived for others and loved ALMOST everyone - especially if they tried to live up to their potential.  She always saw the potential in her students, and with that wonderful twinkle in her eyes; she let you know you could do things you had only dreamed of doing!

  I sat in the back of  Billy Bragg’s class – wishing, on that particular day, to make myself invisible, and hoping he would not call my name.  Those of us in his class had been given the assignment of reciting a poem long enough to fill 3 pages in the American Literature book … the theme being death.  I heard him call my name.  I knew I wasn’t prepared.  There had been trauma in my life during that first week in October 1953.  Across the street in Phoebe Putney was a tiny baby boy - born 3 months too early, weighing just over a pound and barely clinging to life.  This child was a late-life baby for my parents - the boy my father had always wanted, and the brother I had always longed for.  But now it was my turn to recite, and I headed to the front of the class.  Billy Bragg sat in the back of the class - glasses slipped down to the very tip of his nose … waiting ... so I drew a deep breath and began … “To him, who in the love of Nature holds Communion with her visible forms, she speaks a various language; for his gayer hours - she has a voice of gladness, and a smile and eloquence of beauty; and she glides into his darker musings, with a mild and healing sympathy that steals away their sharpness, ere he is aware.  When thoughts of the last, bitter hour come, like a blight over thy spirit ..." and at that point, I drew a blank - I couldn’t remember another word - and I heard Billy say, “Bevly - how’s that little brothuh of yours doin’?”  Tears filled my eyes, and my throat was too tight to even answer, for my little brother, Lukie, wasn’t doing well at all.  Then I heard Billy continue, “this is probably a difficult poem for you to deal with right now - we’ll just let you try this again next week!!

At that moment, I was no longer “Frivolous” (his nickname for me) to him - I was a wounded student, and he had reached out to me with tender care.  When a teacher can teach a student about life through a dark vehicle such as Thanatopsis - (a poem about overcoming the fear of death) - that student has been richly blessed.  And evidently there were volumes of people just like me.  Albany First Methodist Church had to print an additional insert in their bulletin, and again the next week in order to list the people giving memorial contributions in his memory.

Beyond what our parents did for us, these teachers lifted us up - even as the WIND to EAGLES, and by example and lessons, taught us to fly higher than we ever could have without them having touched our lives.

Thank you Coach … 

                Thank you Thelma … 

                                   Thank you Billy  

                                     ... you were the wind beneath our wings!!!

     

 

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