LINSTEAD, St Catherine — Vice-principal of Charlemont High School on the outskirts of this town, Jennifer Gidden, died Wednesday morning, leaving relatives, students and colleagues in shock and grief.
Her family told the Jamaica Observer that she passed away while her only child, Javil-Don Beason, was transporting her to Linstead Public Hospital from her home.
The 62-year-old cancer survivor was admitted recently to the University Hospital of the West Indies. But she spent her final weeks at home on the receiving end of private medical care.
Her son, Beason, who struggled to hold back tears, told the Observer that his mother was jovial and disciplined.
“She was loving, kind, and a mother to everybody else. She was just dynamic, hard-working, and she never quits. She was also just forgiving and loving,” he added. “My mother always had integrity. In all things, she never shaved off things for herself. Even when she was fought for it or when people have her up for it, she always did what was right.”
Novelette Gidden-Malcolm, a vice-principal at Dinthill Technical High School, said her late sister was a woman of determination and was very private about her personal life.
“She was a legend within her own right. She was an educator extraordinaire. She took her job seriously and excellence was her hallmark. She was a perfectionist in her writing; she wrote all the scripts for family occasions. She was very practical in her approach to things, but very meticulous in whatever she did. Although she looked simple, she was not an easy cookie to crumble,” added Gidden-Malcolm.
In the meantime, the administration of Charlemont High School dismissed classes early Wednesday as staff and students struggled to come to grips with the passing. Grief counselling is continuing today, and regular classes will resume next week Wednesday after the Labour Day holiday.
One of the school’s vice-principals, Rosalee DeSouza, told the Observer: “It has been a sad day, and the sadness would have been shared by staff of all categories and students. Even though we know Ms Gidden was ailing for a period of time, her death still came as a shock and we have been trying our very best to deal with the issue. What we are trying to do, however, is to remember her in those periods when she was at her best. It is going to take a while to get through this [grieving], but we are trying our best,” DeSouza added.
Several past students of Charlemont High also have been paying tribute to the veteran educator.
President of Charlemont High School Past Students Association (CHSPSA), Onenetta LaBeach, told the Observer: “The CHSPSA is saddened by the death of this long-time educator and vice-principal. We mourn with the school family as well as the Gidden family. The late Jennifer Gidden has dedicated her life to the education of young minds. CHSPSA takes this time to thank the Gidden family for lending her to us. May her soul rest in peace.”
Gidden, a native of Ewarton in St Catherine, is from a family of many educators.
She attended Mount Rosser Primary School, Claremont Primary, Rosemount Primary, Mount Angus Primary, Dinthill Technical High School, Moneague College, Church Teachers’ College, and The University of the West Indies.
She earned a Bachelor of Science in Management Studies and a Masters in Educational Administration, as well as certification from the National College For Educational Leadership.
She entered the teaching profession at Port Maria Secondary School in St Mary, which has been renamed Wycliffe Martin High School.
Gidden later started her tenure as teacher of English language and literature at Charlemont High in 1988. She remained at that school, serving in various positions, including acting principal.
She was on pre-retirement leave, and was set to retire officially in December.
Gidden is at least the sixth educator whose demise sent the education system into mourning since May 11.
The others who have died are mathematics lecturer at Portmore Community College, Gregory Williams; principal of Vere Technical High School, Antoinette Banton-Ellis; vice-principal of Duncans All-Age School, Ann-Marie Johnson-Lindo; grade six teacher of One Way Preparatory School, Carlos Gordon; and Donnalee Wright of Tarrant High School.