Gail-Anne Graham (1942-2021): a leader in education
The first Bermudian and first woman principal of the Whitney Institute Middle School was remembered by colleagues as a leader in education during the public school reforms of the 1990s.
Gail-Anne Graham also chaired the Committee for Middle School Principals.
She headed the Whitney Institute in Smith’s from 1989 to 2002, and guided the school into the move to the middle school system in 1997.
Upon retirement, Ms Graham told The Royal Gazette that she had known since childhood that she wanted to become a teacher.
Her advice to would-be educators was: “Firstly, do it because you care about students.
“Secondly, always be prepared to go the extra mile, as this is not a nine-to-five job.
“Thirdly, never, never give up.”
Ms Graham received her first degree in English literature from Queen’s University at Kingston, Ontario.
She earned a Post Graduate Certification of Education at Leeds, England, and achieved her master’s in educational administration in 1993.
Much of her teaching career was spent at Whitney.
She taught previously at the former Prospect Secondary School for Girls.
Ms Graham began teaching in the 1960s and her career with Whitney started in 1972.
She served as principal at Whitney in an acting capacity for two years before being formally appointed in 1991, when the school’s trustees hailed her as “able and dedicated professional”.
Melvyn Bassett, a former principal of Sandys Secondary Middle School, said that he trained alongside Ms Graham for the middle school transition, along with Carol Bassett of Dellwood, Charlotte Ming of Clearwater and Patricia Valley of Spice Valley.
“Gail and the rest of us became very close,” he said. “In preparation, those of us selected to head up middle schools received training in the US and Canada.
“Quite often we used to meet at her house as middle school principals when we needed to explore the new curricula or the ministry’s new policies — we met as a team very often.
“Some thought that middle schools were insignificant or that we had made a mistake in implementing it but that was far from our belief.
“Middle school principals recognised that it served a critical role for children at the adolescent stage when they struggle with their identity. It requires teachers who care about that age group, where there are unique developmental issues.
“Gail was a trooper in appreciating the value of middle school education.”
Dr Bassett said that they became “very close friends in addition to colleagues”.
“She always put children first. She was a student-focused teacher, respected by her teachers and board of governors at Whitney. She was a real example to new principals and her teachers.
“She was always smiling, humorous with her colleagues, but well respected by her students and a no-nonsense person. She could be firm with students or even ministry officials when she had a point to make.”
Freddie Evans, a former commissioner of education, succeeded her as principal at Whitney.
Dr Evans said that Ms Graham helped to guide his career, and gave him encouragement in developing a basketball programme at Whitney.
“Gail was a matriarch at the school, with a tough, Margaret Thatcher exterior, but a heart of gold.
“She did not suffer fools but she cared deeply about the children and always wanted the best for Whitney. She was very well versed in the history of the school.
“I would say without hesitation that Whitney was a driving force in her life.
“She also loved her daughter Fiona tremendously and was always very proud of what she was accomplishing.”
· Gail-Anne Marie Graham, a former principal at Whitney Institute Middle School, was born on November 13, 1942. She died in December 2021, aged 79.