When Mrs. Leigh informed me of the passing of Mr. Leigh last week Friday, the tears immediately burst forth. It was news I never wanted to receive because, you see, to me, Mr. Leigh was to be someone who should live forever! From 1967 to 1974, during a period of time when racial tensions in Bermuda were unsettled and preparing to erupt I was simply a little girl with a mind already made up to be a teacher – watching my teachers closely and desiring to be just like my favorite ones: Sue Davis (now deceased), Shirley Bacon (now deceased), and Alan Leigh…..(now deceased). Mr. Leigh was my standard 5 teacher – that final year that prepared us for high school. He was very very strict in that he took no nonsense but he was firm and he was fair. His classroom had a storage closet and while he introduced us all to the visual of what he called “the board of education” – a small paddle shaped like a cricket bat – we knew which lines not to cross that would render a visit to the closet for punishment. I can’t speak for some of the boys in my class, but I know I was never personally introduced to “the board of education”. Mr. Leigh was knowledgeable about EVERY thing and he took no nonsense from anyone whether it was student, parent, or staff. I always knew when he was serious because his eyebrows would raise.
What was most impactful for me through my young child eyes was the way teachers nurtured and the creative way my teachers taught lessons. That’s what I wanted to do.
I fulfilled my dream of becoming a teacher and I stand here 34 years later still just as passionate about the career I chose with a solid foundation on how to teach instilled in me by Mr. Leigh. My very early years were rocked by a situation of which I had no understanding. Mr. Leigh sat me down and gave me a history of the politics behind the situation – and he told me how his fight against it in his own career got him into lots of trouble. I stand today, Mr. Leigh’s protégé – and over the years as I’ve shared my personal education stories with him, I realized I had become a source of entertainment to him as he would laugh his great big hearty Alan Leigh laugh and raise his eyebrows. He saw himself in me – and I in him.
Going back to teach at Gilbert Institute – as the very first former student to do so – and teaching in the classroom right next to the classroom where Mr. Leigh taught me was historically significant and one of the most memorable moments in my career.
Mr. Leigh had a magnetic effect on so many people – and to think, I thought it was only me with whom he had this effect. His effect on the lives of others came to light when I posted the news of his passing on my facebook page. The heart felt messages and warm memories showed just how much he touched the lives of so many people. It seems everyone expected Mr. Leigh to live forever.
Back in November I tried to arrange a surprise visit to Mr. Leigh at his home and take a few of my fellow Gilbert peers with me – Joy Saltus Symonds, Linda O’Brien and my sister Shari-Lynn Bean Pringle and her classmate Tonia Thompson Symons – but due to everyone not being able to go altogether we tried again for another Sunday in December – but Mr. Leigh was going to be attending a funeral. Our priority to make this visit happen never happened. And for that I am even more upset than ever. We’ve missed our chance to talk to this giant of a man one more time.
I’ve spent my career doing what I know would pass Mr. Leigh’s standards – and based on the feedback I’ve gotten over the decades and based on the conversations we’ve had, I have no doubt my career choice has not been in vain. One of the periods of my life where I will never forget Mr. Leigh and his impact on my life was during a very challenging period of my career. I felt targeted, and unnecessarily picked on even though I knew within my heart of hearts that I was doing nothing wrong. But I called Mr. Leigh and for that entire school year, often times before his golf game, he would come in and sit with me and talk with me and look over all the things I was allegedly not doing right with a fine toothed comb and he could never find a problem with any of it. By the end of that school year we talked at length about the real issues behind these fictitious problems and he looked me in the eye, complimented me on the fine job I was doing, and said words to me that still resonate in my head. He said, “I taught you well girl!” That was confirmation to me from my life long mentor that the foundation he laid for me was still just as solid as ever.
Bette Midler sang the song, “Wind Beneath My Wings” and how fitting for the impact Mr. Leigh had on those of us as he has helped propel us all into our respective areas of life – he taught us how to nurture, he taught us how to problem solve, he should us how to demand respect, he taught us how to teach. I will miss Mr. Leigh more than anyone will ever know. I see much of my teaching style in the way Mr. Leigh did it. My prayer is that he will rest in eternal peace and that all of us will spend the rest of our lives cherishing our respective memories of this great man whose purpose on earth was clearly to set a standard on how to live our lives. If I could have just one more talk with Mr. Leigh, I would say, (“singing” Did you ever know that you’re my hero? You’re everything I would like to be? I can fly higher than an eagle – For you are the wind beneath my wings).