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Lawton Posey: And gladly teach

Each fall, my thoughts turn to the role of teachers in my life. While the big yellow buses rumble by, and the stores sell backpacks and notebooks, I remember the importance of teachers. Some were schoolteachers. Others were people who had little formal education but who influenced me.

Today, I want to tell you about a teacher who inspired more than a generation of students in Buffalo High School. Her name is Rebecca (Becky) Crockett whose death just the other day moved me deeply. 

From the time she was twelve years old until her death at 57, she was my special friend.  She was well educated and enthusiastic. A couple of times in my life I was involved with her in an educational event. 

One such event was about the Holocaust, and I was able to find just the right person to talk to all the teenagers about this sad series of events that resulted in the murder of six million Jews in the late thirties and forties of the past century.  Mrs. Katie S. Wells was the speaker, who in her eighties could entrance a group decades younger than she.  Becky put together an outstanding program for the youth at Buffalo High. The whole student body attended and listened raptly.

There is more, of course. Becky was the youngest child of parishioners in Welch, where I was minister of First Presbyterian Church.  Becky grew up in that church, sang in its choir of young people, and was spirited and fun.  She, like her Dad, Strother Crockett, had an optimistic nature and wanted to help make a difference in the lives of young people. Her beautiful mother Jean, has just had her 95th birthday.

For a number of years, I lost touch with Becky, as I moved to other congregations. Now and then, though, I would return to the family's ancestral farmhouse in Crockett's Cove near Wytheville. There might be a party, or a marriage to bless, or perhaps a sad event like Strother's death in the eighties.

I formed my image of the great teacher by my mother's example. Thus, I soon elevated Becky to that status as well. In my few visits to Buffalo High, I could see that she was admired, not only for her knowledge of the subject matter, but because she was devoted to the boys and girls she taught in a temporary building in the schoolyard.

She was not effusive, but no one who knew Becky could doubt that she loved many people deeply. Her wit and humor shone forth from this lady who was surrounded by friends, but lived alone with her cats in a lovely condominium. When she was in her hospital bed, dying of cancer, one beautiful grey kitty was there lovingly moving her paws upon Becky's hands. 

All the gifts were there. Becky Crockett was kind and loving, but also trustworthy.  I suspect that she did not suffer fools gladly. Since I was, seventy years ago, a student, I know that at times I was one of those fools. In my view, she was an innovator, working with the other teachers, to make learning not only the transfer of information, but a bit of fun as well.

In Chaucer's "Canterbury Tales," an Oxford student is described as one who did gladly learn and gladly teach. That is a high compliment. There was no pretense in this woman, who forever will be young in my mind.  There are some who claim to teach, but hate it. One has to love standing on hard floors for hours, listening to students express wild opinions, and encountering persons who are resistant to change to be a real teacher.

In the Christian tradition, which she shared, we remember that Jesus was a teacher, called "Rabbi" by his student disciples.  Perhaps he should be the patron of teachers, even for those of other traditions. 

When one teaches, truly, one lays down life for others. For over three decades, Becky Crockett did just that.

There is no doubt that I, and many, loved her and will miss her.

Posey is a retired minister of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) who writes from his home in Charleston, W.Va.


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