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Vivlyn’s a class apart

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An inspiration: outstanding senior Vivlyn Cooper has had a long and distinguished career in education (Photograph supplied)

Vivlyn Cooper didn’t expect to spend her time battling drug addicts as principal of Dellwood Primary School.

But in the 1980s, a nearby empty warehouse was a hangout for users.

“Imagine teaching a class, and looking out the window and seeing someone shooting up,” said Mrs Cooper, 76. “It was very disturbing for students and staff. The drug problem there was a burden on my heart.”

In the mornings, she and other staff members donned rubber gloves to collect syringes and other drug paraphernalia left on school grounds during the night.

“We didn’t want students to arrive at school and see that,” she said.

Her proudest moment was the day she finally got the building torn down, after appealing to its owner and the City of Hamilton.

“We let the kids off for the afternoon,” she said. “Everyone watched the razing. Then for therapy the kids wrote stories about the old warehouse for weeks afterward.”

Once the warehouse was removed, the addicts moved away.

“When my friends from Dellwood and I get together we still talk about that day,” Mrs Cooper said.

She remembers it as her “last hurrah” as a school principal.

Shortly after, in 1993, she became senior education officer at the Ministry of Education. She stayed there for a decade, retiring in 2003.

Last month she received the Queen’s Certificate and Badge of Honour for her 37 years in Bermuda education.

“It was exciting,” she said. “The first I knew of it, one of my teachers from Dellwood called me.

“I was in a hospital bed when I got the call. Following my mother’s funeral in May I was dehydrated and very exhausted.

“When I came home, I called my friend and said I humbly accept the award for all of us, because anyone who helped me along the way, deserves also to share with me.”

Mrs Cooper said her mother, Beatrice Carvalho, also deserved to share the limelight.

She was a tremendous inspiration to her growing up in Maidstone, Jamaica.

“She didn’t have any formal education but she believed in it,” said Mrs Cooper.

Mrs Cooper’s father, Enos Bartley, died when she was seven; her mother sacrificed to put four children through school.

“There was no free education at that time,” she said.

Her mother’s most important lesson was on risk.

“She taught us that if you don’t take risks you don’t learn,” said Mrs Cooper.

As a youngster she dreamt of becoming a doctor, but two days spent shadowing a nurse convinced her otherwise.

“I couldn’t stand the sight of blood,” she said. “I didn’t like the smell of the hospital. The place upset me.”

So she earned a teacher’s certificate from Shortwood Teachers’ College in Jamaica, the same school that educated many of Bermuda’s great educators such as the late Edna Mae Scott.

It was Mrs Scott who invited Mrs Cooper to come to Bermuda in 1966. She was then principal at Harrington Sound Primary and wanted her to teach at the school.

“At that time my only intention was to get my bachelor’s in education from Queen’s University,” she said. “I took courses during vacations.”

The late educator may have had an ulterior motive for inviting her here. Somehow she kept arranging meetings between Mrs Cooper and one of her favourite former students, Allan Cooper.

“To be honest, I think she had it all planned out,” Mrs Cooper laughed.

The Coopers were married not long after Mrs Cooper got her bachelor’s degree. They will celebrate their 44th wedding anniversary this month.

“I haven’t even thought yet about what we’re going to do for [it],” she laughed.

Mrs Cooper is particularly proud that their daughter, Marsha Rollins, is following in her footsteps, as vice-principal of Port Royal Primary School.

“It is quite interesting, because I see a lot of myself in Marsha,” said Mrs Cooper. “In my retirement, I have been mentoring her and several other teachers and principals. I am very honoured to be able to do that.”

She said having a child of her own was challenging because people’s expectations were so high.

“Being a teacher and principal, everyone wants your child to be perfect,” she said. “And it puts a lot of pressure on the child. Even now they tell me with my nine-year-old granddaughter, Amaya, ‘She has to do well, look at her mother and grandmother’.”

In her retirement, Mrs Cooper is an elder at Christ Church Warwick and is involved in several church community projects.

She loves gardening and reading thrillers by John Grisham and Robert Ludlow. She is also involved in a group she formed with a friend called the Breakfast Buddies.

“We are eight retired friends of different backgrounds,” she said. “We meet once a month. We used to host breakfast in each others homes but then it became a bit much.

“We still meet once a month and just relax and enjoy each other’s company. We do puzzles to challenge our mental capacities and other things.

“I also love spending time with my granddaughter.”

Lifestyle profiles senior citizens in the community every Tuesday. To suggest an outstanding senior contact Jessie Moniz Hardy: 278-0150 or jmhardy@royalgazette.com. Have on hand the senior’s full name, contact details and the reason you are suggesting them

Passion for education: Vivlyn Cooper in her early teaching days with the Harrington Sound Primary School netball team (Photograph supplied)