Julia Beach (1947-2023): teacher devoted to passing on gift of literacy
A teacher with a passion for the written word threw herself into work at an adult education centre after a chance meeting with the school’s founder.
Julia Beach started volunteering at the Adult Education School – soon to rebrand as the Adult Education Centre – after befriending its founder, Merle Brock Swan Williams, during a workshop at the Bermuda College.
“Merle had the vision,” Ms Beach told the Bermuda Sun in 2011. “Anyone working along with her at the school could not help but be inspired by her philosophy.”
Born in Weymouth, England, Ms Beach moved to Jamaica at age 14. Her father worked for the mining and aluminium giant Alcan, which ran a large plant based in the town of Mandeville, where Ms Beach attended high school.
Ms Beach began teaching at age 16 for a nursery school in Jamaica before returning to the Britain to study social sciences at the University of East Anglia.
One of her daughters, Abby Kermode, said: “Teaching was something she was drawn to and ended up being very good at – I think some people are just born educators.”
At university, Ms Beach met fellow teacher Nigel Kermode, her first husband, and the two shared a love of island life.
Bermuda was recruiting British-trained educators in the 1970s, and the couple ended up working at Saltus.
Ms Beach also taught geography and social studies at the Berkeley Institute, as well as English at the Bermuda College.
She met Ms Swan Williams there in 1980 and set up a reading lab at AES, then started volunteering at the school as well as coordinating its General Educational Development programme.
She became director in 2001, telling The Royal Gazette: “If we are too authoritarian, it turns the students right off.
“Our aim is to get them to enjoy it, so they want to keep coming back and they actually enjoy learning – and most of them actually do.”
Arlene Brock, a former Ombudsman of Bermuda and now managing director at the AES, is the niece of Ms Swan Williams.
Ms Brock said: “We are obviously saddened by Ms Beach’s passing, honouring and recognising the work that she did as an assistant director directly with Aunt Merle.
“She was the chosen first director of the school after Aunt Merle left her position.”
Ms Beach admired the school’s approach to reading and writing as “a skill just like riding a bike”, she said.
“Many of those people who are not literate are afraid to admit it, and they can mask it for years and years through one way or another.
“They have built up terrific defences to hide it – and have developed other skills to compensate for it.”
But Ms Beach said that once mature learners set about building their literacy, progress was often swift.
She added: “The joy expressed from those who have learnt how to read and write after not being able to for so many years is fantastic.”
Part of Ms Beach’s goal as director until she stepped down in 2005 was to build the finances of the AES.
She was also dedicated to instilling an “inviting” atmosphere at AES.
Ms Kermode said: “Mum loved the sound of what Merle was doing. It was the foundation of reading that she was drawn to, as an avid reader.
“It was really supportive of people who had not been able to find their way in the traditional school. She staunchly believed everybody should be able to get their high school equivalency.”
Ms Kermode called her mother “the personification of grace, strength and love – all of which she did with equal levels of dedication”.
“She was hugely dedicated to her family, her work and her friendships, and she did it all with massive amounts of love.”
Ms Kermode described her as “witty and funny” with an arch sense of humour and a signature “infectious smile”.
She remarried and spent “33 wonderful years” with her second husband, Millard Beach.
She had to leave education to take care of her ageing parents in Puerto Rico.
In later years Ms Beach worked as a substitute teacher in primary schools, followed by customer service for Gillian’s, a spa and skin clinic in Devonshire.
She was also a keen bridge player and a regular at the Bermuda Bridge Club.
She is survived by her husband along with children Marcus Kermode, Abby Kermode, Carmen Tucker and Marcelle Lawrence.
• Julia Marie Beach, a former director of the Adult Education School, was born on May 5, 1947. She died on March 7, 2023, aged 75.
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