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A golden teacher to remember

Distinguished lady who exuded warmth: Doris Corbin

At Central School, now Victor Scott, there were many outstanding dedicated teachers who touched many lives during the deeply troubling years of the Second World War. In addition to those conditions, the social injustice of the day added to the hurdles of life where many families, especially in the black community, had a struggle every single day to keep food on the table and a roof over their heads.

Of course, in all fairness, many white families did not have an easy time either, although they were not subjected to the period of being rejected simply because you were the wrong colour. It took many years to demolish those walls in order for Bermuda to move forward, and today we may not be perfect, but we have much to be proud about in trying to climb to higher paths of more harmonious living as one people.

Great teachers played a key role in not only educating during tough years, but they seemed to possess a special insight into the future, which they knew would require determination, commitment, and a willingness to go the extra mile in becoming a good person, while taking on the challenges of life. When I first entered the classroom of Mrs Doris Corbin, and took my seat, I had no idea that things would be different from previous classes.

My major flaw was having more interest in art than regular schoolwork, and teachers knew this since my books were so covered with drawings they never needed to see my name on the cover. Mrs Corbin for some reason felt my grades should be higher, and in a quiet, firm way, she set out to make that a reality.

She had the most beautiful smile, and in a gentle manner would have me do assignments over, even if it meant staying back after class.

The war years had led to really tough times as far as food was concerned, and many children were unable to have a decent lunch most of the time. Sometimes a little lady would sell puddings by the roadside for a penny or two; that was lunch. Whether the pudding had any taste or not did not matter.

Even with my mother’s best efforts, there were times when lunch was just a period between the morning and afternoon sessions.

One day when the lunch bell rang, Mrs Corbin asked me to remain in my seat. When all the children had left the room, she called me to her desk. She gave me directions to where her sister lived in the Government Gate area, and sent me there to fetch her lunch. Her sister Mrs Somersall was also very gracious and kind.

When I returned to the classroom and was about to leave, she gestured that I take a seat and offered me a part of that lunch. Afterwards I thanked her, and had a little playtime before the afternoon session started. Nothing changed in her demands that I work harder to attain better grades, and she was also adamant that my handwriting must improve.

This caused a stir in the class during a writing test conducted by Mrs Edna Mea Scott, wife of the then-principal, Victor Scott.

Other students wanted to know how I could top the class in writing when I was known for chicken scratching, as though I was hoping to be a doctor.

Mrs Scott explained to the class that as an artist I simply drew each letter in doing the assignment, and that made the difference. The biggest surprise was yet to come. After many afternoons at my desk after school, and a little more determination, I felt ready for final exams before summer.

When the results came and I was top of the class, I was speechless and beyond excitement. I knew it was through Mrs Corbin, and her belief that I could do better, that I achieved that goal. To this day, the fact that one can always do better was a lesson from her I shall never forget. I learnt later that she was not only a superb organist, but was a girl guide leader, and was involved in other community activities.

However, my most profound memory of this distinguished lady was her warmth. When she turned 100 I told her that she was really the most wonderful teacher in the world and that being a student in her class was an honour I shall always cherish. May she rest in the peace she has surely earned.