Two who have left a large legacy in educationSaturday, January 26, 2013
LIFE, they say, is akin to a journey, beginning with a few tentative steps in infancy, and ending — if we are lucky — in old age, with family and good friends remembering us kindly even as they grieve over our departure.
Along the way between those two markers, we meet hundreds — if not thousands — of people, and again, if we are fortunate, form strong and lasting friendships among the multitude we have met. I have had the good fortune to cross paths with a wide variety of people in my trajectory and have made some good acquaintances as well as fast friends.
Alas, life does not stand still, and that coterie becomes smaller with each passing year. This week, I pause to pay tribute to a couple of people with whom I have connected.
Maud Fuller died last week after spending a month in Toronto's Sunnybrook Hospital. She was admitted with a stroke in mid-December, one week after celebrating her 79th birthday.
A friend who met Maud at university and remained close over the years was at her bedside when she died. Jean Patterson says Maud was, above all, creative and humorous: "Whenever you were in her company, there was something she would always say that would make you laugh heartily."
I can't recall when I first met Maud, who, it appeared, I knew forever. The first time I became conscious of her was during her appearances in the annual Pantomime put on by the pioneering Little Theatre Movement. Maud was a natural on the stage, demonstrating an innate sense of comic timing and a mastery of the nuances of our distinctive vernacular.
She was a protégée of the legendary Louise Bennett-Coverley, who taught Maud at UWI Extra-Mural classes in improvisation and her pursuit of comedy roles in the theatre. So it was no surprise that Maud won one of the two supporting roles in the weekly Lou and Ranny comedy show on JBC Radio as the 1950s turned into the 60s.
Along with another rising young comic star, Tony Henry, Maud took part in the antics of Miss Lou and Maas Ran in their perpetual battle of the sexes every Wednesday night on the stage of the Carib Theatre, just before the evening's feature movie began.
There's a strong irony here — of the Lou and Ranny Show foursome, three have died in Canada. Ranny Williams moved to Toronto in the late 1970s to stay with his daughter after his health declined, and he died in 1980. Had he survived, he would now be 100 years old. Miss Lou died six years ago in the Toronto suburb of Scarborough, four years after the death of her husband, Eric Coverley, another prominent figure in the development of the modern Jamaican theatre scene.
Although Maud could have had a successful career on the stage, having attended the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in London, she pursued her main interest in life — education. She enrolled at the newly transformed University of the West Indies where she was named Student of the Year in 1965, and graduated the next year with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English and Spanish.
Her next stop was the University of Toronto where she earned her Master's in Education. Her speciality was English as a foreign language, and she put her knowledge and experience to good use in Toronto with her attachment to the Toronto school board as a special education teacher.
This was at a time when immigrants were pouring in from the Caribbean, and Ms Fuller was an important resource in helping teachers understand the language and culture of the newcomers. She worked as an instructor and lecturer with the University of Toronto's School of Continuing Education, guiding them in better understanding pupils and students from the region.
Several school boards with numbers of Caribbean children used a series of videos, entitled See Mi Yah, which Maud helped produce.
Over the years, Maud amassed a significant collection of books, which she donated four years ago to the University of Toronto, some of them going to the university library's rare books collection. A former director of the university's Caribbean Studies programme, Alissa Trotz, told a community paper in Toronto that receiving these books is a tremendous honour: "Every time they go to do research in the library, our students will be keeping her memory and her love of learning alive."
Maud could be found at many Caribbean cultural events and worked for years as artistic director of the Heritage Singers, which was formed in 1977 to promote Caribbean folk music and theatre in Toronto. She wrote the script for the group's first production, which was titled Zuzuwah, and served as the patron for its last production, Olde Tyme Country Wedding.
Above all, Maud never forgot her beloved University of the West Indies and often gathered with other alumni in Toronto to discuss things at their old school. During one such meeting in 1987, the then bursar, Winston Davis, told them about some difficulties the university was having — campus facilities which had fallen into disrepair and students facing financial difficulties.
Maud quickly put together a committee which formed a local chapter with Maud in charge for the next 20 years. They raised substantial sums for the UWI scholarship fund and to refurbish campus facilities. Last year was the 25th anniversary of the chapter, and to mark the occasion members presented Maud with a special award of honour.
The university has been grateful for her contributions over the years and recognised them by naming a scholarship in her honour as well as presenting her with the Vice-Chancellor's Award three years ago. She is returning the favour by requesting that her ashes be taken back to Jamaica for a ceremony at the University Chapel before she is interred beside her mother.
This morning a large crowd of Jamaican expats and former co-workers bade farewell to Maud at a funeral service in Toronto.
The other person I'd like to remember is Peter Maxwell, who was a schoolmate at Kingston College during the 1950s and who also went on to a career in education. A son of the legendary Anglican Archdeacon Eric Maxwell, Peter was a leader, even as a boy.
He had an imposing physical stature and was active in several aspects of school life, notably as a non-commissioned officer in the school's Cadet Corps and as the school's head boy in 1957.
Besides teaching English at his alma mater and lecturing at Shortwood Teachers' College and the University of the West Indies, Maxwell edited publications of the National Association of Teachers of English, which he headed at one time. He also contributed newspaper articles about English and joined in the debate about teaching patois in schools.
In recent years he experienced a number of health challenges and died at the University Hospital last week. We scarcely saw each other since leaving school, but a few years ago, through the magic of electronics and the good offices of his older brother, John, we re-established contact.
This journey of life does, indeed, have unexpected pathways and intersections.