Teachers, students remember Michelle Mitchell-Henry as pleasant; good teacher, friend, colleague
BY INGRID BROWN Associate editor - special assignment email@example.com
A sign displayed in the staff room at Paul Bogle High School in St Thomas declares: "the influence of a good teacher can never be erased". This is particularly true of Michelle Mitchell-Henry whose sudden death has left a void which is being felt by both her former colleagues and students alike.
Both groups are struggling to accept the reality that Mitchell -Henry's smile will never again warm their hearts as she died from complications during childbirth on September 17.
Head of the Home Economics department Sefron Douglas sat with the pile of papers Mitchell-Henry had prepared for her class while she would be off on maternity leave.
"She came in on Monday, September 16 , and although she was due to have baby on the 17th she was her usual jovial self," an emotional Douglas told the Jamaica Observer North East.
Douglas said the students who were being prepared by Mitchell-Henry to sit the home economics Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate examination next May have not been taking the death of their teacher very well, despite having received counselling from guidance counsellors and Ministry of Education staff.
Mitchell-Henry's death is a void the school's population say will not easily be filled as the "ever smiling teacher" made an indelible impression in the 16 years she taught at the institution.
And while the students received counselling to deal with the unexpected tragedy, the staff had to find a forum to openly express grief at the loss of their colleague and this was done at a special gathering of the academic, administrative and ancillary staff two Fridays ago.
The staff held hands to offer emotional support as the guidance counsellor led them in the singing of the song Lean on me.
Senior teacher and head of the maths department Andrew James urged his colleagues to use the opportunity to "give God thanks for the life of our late colleague who has been a close friend to all of us and who have impacted all our lives".
"The book of Proverbs speaks of having a good name so that when you die others can speak of your contribution, but while some people have failed to make an impact Michelle has influenced all our lives and all teachers and students present and past can agree to this," James said.
Mitchell-Henry, he said, was not only known for being a good teacher but a great cook, particularly of duckunoo - the traditional Jamaican fare made with cornmeal and boiled in banana leaves.
Colleague teacher Diane Thompson recalled that both she and Mitchell-Henry were pregnant around the same time in 2005 and they would often have discussions relating to this.
"As we worked together we had agreements and disagreements but she was always quiet and had this soft disposition and that is how I want to remember her," she said. She also used the opportunity to encourage her colleagues to ensure that they make the necessary plans for their family members to access their benefits in the event of sudden death.
Secretary Kerry-Ann Bernard remembered Mitchell-Henry as one who was always smiling.
"You never knew if she ever had a bad day because when she is around you always get this feeling of comfort," she noted.
Bernard recalled commenting on a beautiful ring Mitchell-Henry was wearing one day which was immediately offered to her. "I had to tell her 'no, I can't take such an expensive-looking ring' and so she made me wear it for the entire day."
Fellow teacher and close friend Johnette McFarlane-Lewis said Mitchell-Henry lived life to its fullest. She recalled the wonderful time they had on a trip to the United States, with the only regret being that the pictures they took were lost forever when her laptop was stolen.
"She always taught me a lot about how she planned and executed some of the things she did and she is a person I am glad that I met," she said.
Another teacher broke down and wept uncontrollably at the mention of Mitchell-Henry's name. She had to be comforted by her colleagues as she recalled getting the dreadful news.
Teacher Roshelle Parchment-Brown said Mitchell-Henry was always there to give a listening ear as well as to give advice. "She always took the time out to listen to you," she said.
Parchment-Brown said hours before Mitchell-Henry died she was glowing and healthy-looking.
"On the Monday when she was here she was just smiling and glowing and she went around to as many persons as she could to tell them that she was going off on maternity leave," she recalled, adding that "even though we are all grieving we know she is someone we can have special memories of".
School nurse Loris Parris urged fellow staff members to grieve, but not for too long. "Remember that she was always smiling so she wouldn't want you to grieve too much because over time that brings a lot of sadness."
Teacher Suzette Davids-Heron said the opportunity of coming together in such a gathering would help them to appreciate their colleagues much more.
"This is just a wake-up call for us to value each other because we just don't know what will happen," she said.
Davids-Heron said she was in a state of shock and denial when she learnt that Mitchell had died.
"She just got married and has not seen her first anniversary yet and she has her little son and so we need to breathe a word of prayer for her family," she said.
Phyllis Faley described Mitchell-Henry as one who was always positive, friendly and genuinely cared about others. "Michelle will never be forgotten in my life and I don't think I will ever come to grips for now," she said as she struggled to hold back the tears.