The life and times of a hero for education

  • Marion De Jean

    Marion De Jean

Marion Ida Seager De Jean (née Trott) was born on April 18, 1923, on Sound View Road, Sandys. She was the second child of parents Francis Edmund “Frank” Trott and Nellie Beryl Stowe Simons.

Marion was a loving mother and educator. Her passion about education began with her very own. As a child she was a gifted student, educated first at home by her grandmother and then at the West End School.

She was tutored by well-known principal Victor F. Scott and was able to win a scholarship to the Berkeley Institute at age 9. A few years later, in 1939, she obtained the Bermuda Scholarship for Girls, which enabled her to attend Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, in Canada, where she obtained a BA in English and French.

In later years, she obtained a Diploma in Education from the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at the University of Toronto.

Significant influences in Marion’s young life were her grandmother, Ida Iona Trott (née Seager) and her godfather, C. Isaac Henry, the first principal of West End Primary. Her grandmother first settled in Bermuda from England in 1896 and was a respected primary school principal in Britain and a certified piano/organ teacher. She was also responsible for the establishment of Somerset Primary School. That grandmother was her first role model and taught her to play piano, which she continued to enjoy, even in her later years.

At her Berkeley Institute graduation, she acquired at age 16 the honour of becoming the youngest Bermuda Scholar. It was at that stage in her life, while obtaining experience at being a teacher’s assistant at the West End school — and, incidentally, while waiting to be old enough to travel abroad — that Marion decided to become a teacher.

In 1940 at age 17, she entered Queen’s University. Marion recalls this period in her book Parallels & Reminiscences — a book she wrote in 2011 about her family’s heritage, especially about her grandmother — taking her first trip off the island in the summer of 1940 on board the Lady Nelson. It was then that her independent growth began with the chance meeting of four other students on the ship and, for the first time, befriending a “white Bermudian girl”.

They happily walked the decks under cover of darkness, sharing ideas and dreams about their future. As Marion recalled in her book, despite the small community they both lived in, they had not known each other before because the local school system was segregated.

For Marion, it was the beginning of actively breaking down barriers and it became much of what her life’s purpose was about. She was an advocate always for maintaining the dignity of mankind through a respected universal charter of rights and belief in the value of education for all.

Marion spent her weekends and vacations during the war years with her Bermudian Trott cousins, who lived in Montreal. While in the city they met a fine Canadian Army soldier, Edward “Eddie” De Jean, whom she would marry in 1943.

From that union, Eddie Jr and daughter Elizabeth Anne would be born. During the summer of 1944, she worked in the De Havilland Aircraft Company — with two left hands as she would often recall in jest — building aeroplanes for the Allied war effort against the Nazis.

At the end of the war and upon graduation from Queen’s, she worked in Ottawa for the International Labour Organisation, where she aligned Canadian jobs with the new ILO classifications. In 1949, upon illness of her father, she returned to Bermuda with her young family. While in Bermuda during that period, Marion was offered a position at Sandys Secondary School by Louisa Richards, whom she greatly admired.

Marion and Mrs Richards recognised the tremendous potential of students and they were determined within a racially segregated public-school system to give them the academic requirements for the Cambridge exam and for college.

Notwithstanding having their own young family, Marion and her husband were active in pioneering secondary education for young people of colour who were facing the resistance of a regressive society. She was at Sandys Sec as her husband took on the challenge, in the wake of the death of Edwin Skinner, of keeping Howard Academy going against great odds. The “spirit of Howard” survived under the creative leadership of Eddie De Jean, with students and families rallying, literally, to build a facility to house young people in that sacred mission.

The support of his wife, Marion, was crucial. Added to this, Marion and Eddie were key participants in a group of actvitists that met quietly at the home of Hilton and Georgine Hill, shaping a vision for a better Bermuda. Out of their reflective discussions came a document entitled An Analysis of Bermuda’s Social Ills and hundreds of copies were circulated throughout the community in the mid-1950s. Other key members of this group were Wilfred “Mose” Allen, David Critchley and Carol Hill.

Ultimately, to sustain these democratic initiatives, the establishment of a people’s party was required. Marion recalled that this idea was first conceived in 1962, at her dining room table by her husband, Eddie, together in conversation with the late Wilfred “Mose” Allen. Subsequently, the idea found acceptance by other concerned members of the Bermuda community at Hugh “Rio” Richardson’s Garage off Serpentine Road — and the Progressive Labour Party was launched in 1963.

Owing to a need for the family to continue their education, since the university education at McGill for husband Eddie was interrupted by the war — and the closure of Howard Academy, the De Jean family returned to Canada in 1964 — first to Queen’s University where her husband completed his degree in biology. While living in Kingston, Ontario, in the early 1960s, Marion was employed in the Kingston Women’s Prison, and quickly took on the role of social worker, an experience that she would relate and reflect upon as her real-world learning experience impacted her life and her teaching profession.

Upon the graduation of her husband from Queen’s, they moved to Toronto, where Marion obtained her professional teachers diploma and taught at King City High School. Her home became a haven for Bermudians.

Later, in 1967, the family returned to Quebec to be near to Eddie’s ageing parents and it is where Marion and Eddie remained until retirement in 1980. In Montreal, Marion thrived during the separatist period of the 1970s, when she taught both English and French in the Montreal South Shore Board education system of Quebec for 17 years in total, teaching last at Le Moyne d’Iberville High School. She is remembered by many persons in the area, including a fellow Bermudian colleague and mathematics teacher, Yvonne Somersall Millington.

In the early Eighties, the De Jeans moved back to Bermuda, and Marion became involved in a variety of social justice issues. She served along with Esther Bean as teachers responsible for the Department of Education’s “Time-Out” programme. At that time, she became involved again with the Bermuda Union of Teachers, and the union’s efforts to improve the island’s system of education.

Marion served as the chairwoman of the union’s Board of Inquiry into education, which included Michael West, the college lecturer in psychology, Edwin Wilson, the education officer at the Department of Education, and school principal Carol Bassett.

This Board of Inquiry was successful in facilitating a shift in the consensus across the community to one in which the 11-Plus Exam had a negative-effect on our society, especially for boys.

It should be noted that a founding member of the BUT was Marion’s English grandmother, Ida Iona Seager Trott, together with other notable teachers and sisters Ada and Adelle Tucker.

Her grandmother served as the BUT’s first secretary, for ten years. This association gave Marion a great sense of pride. She was also involved in the movement against apartheid in South Africa. She often supported rallies in Montreal, Bermuda and London.

She celebrated Nelson Mandela’s release and subsequently his governance and reconciliation concept; in retrospect, it is what she had hoped would become a viable solution to end conflicts throughout the world.

It was in this context that in 1981 Marion was appointed to Bermuda’s first Commission on Human Rights, advocating for the improvement of the Act. She enjoyed working with the renowned human rights consultant, the late Daniel G. Hill from Toronto.

In recent times, her heroes became individuals such as Stephen Lewis, the former United Nations HIV/Aids envoy to Africa, and Lieutenant-General Romeo D’Allaire, who stood on principle. Their stands were likewise etched in the objective of social justice for all of humanity, which indeed Marion advocated.

Marion enjoyed life and looked forward to her travels, which in many respects were geographical learning opportunities for her. She was particularly close to relatives and gave good counsel to her younger family members. She was a keen companion and, to many, an unseen supporter of her late husband, Eddie. His role as an educator and social activist enabled him to also make a difference in the lives of people.

Admirably as a mother, she gave sterling support to her children and grandchildren, and was especially happy to see her grandchildren become adults and pursue careers in medicine and law respectively.

Marion passed on July 17, 2018.

Glenn Fubler, a member of Imagine Bermuda, made this contribution in conjunction with the De Jean family

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Published Aug 22, 2018 at 8:00 am (Updated Aug 22, 2018 at 8:02 am)

The life and times of a hero for education

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