• Nancy Brown
    Teacher.  Colleague.  Friend.
    Nancy Brown
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    by Laurie Miller

    It is September 1981, and I am introduced to Nancy Brown, the “veteran” teacher, (who had received that title because she had already survived one semester of teaching at our very young school). I have just moved from New York; Nancy is from Mississippi. I have a Long Island accent; she has a southern drawl. I am loud; she has a soft voice. I am grating; she is calming. I am direct and blunt; she likes to get her point across in a round about way. I laugh too loud, and although I am basically a nice person, I am not very tactful; she is gentle mannered, and is never rude. I am the Nike girl: “Just do it!”; She is tupelo honey, and works with a kid glove. North meets South. How can these two people, so very different, work together? Turns out, I have just met the other half of the English Department at Mid-Peninsula High School who I would work with for over twenty-seven years.

    What I found out, fairly early in our professional relationship, was that the same student who would storm out of my classroom, slamming doors and yelling obscenities, would sprout jello legs under the tutelage of Nancy Brown. Students who threw pens across my room and refused to write, sat like docile cuddly puppies next to her side, while she coaxed them through five paragraph essays. When she spoke to them she made them think, “Wow, I am loveable!“ and brought a shine to their eyes. I don't know how she did it; like I say, it wasn't my style. But I was glad it was Nancy's style, because she and I, as a team, were able to “cover” just about every student who entered our school.

    Nancy was teacher, social worker, and mother hen, all rolled into one. She made students feel safe. Did I use the term “students“? She called them “the children,” and she meant nothing degrading by that. She was a nurturer by nature, and many of our students came to see her as a second mother who took them under her wings, and did not merely teach them English, but got to understand who they were as human beings. Not only that--she wasn't interested in changing them; she liked them for who they were. (By the way, she did the same for most new teachers who went to her for advice and mentoring--she was glad to give it, free of charge). And the last thing I remember so vividly: she always signed every memo with a happy face.

    Nancy had an inner strength that didn't seem immediately apparent to many of us until she was diagnosed with cancer

    2 ½ years ago. Over those years I came to truly understand the southern saying, “Steel Magnolia.” She had one of the most grueling regimens of chemotherapy and radiation I could imagine, and yet she never once complained. She would tell me her cancer had made its way to yet another part of her body, and when I would look pained, she would say, “It's ok. One day at a time.” She managed to get to France, New York, Oregon and Austria, where she got to see the Lipizzaner Stallions. I would drive by her house every day on my way home from work, and I would monitor her health by whether her truck was in the driveway or not; if not, I knew she had dragged herself out to visit her horses. I would call and say, “You had a good day…your truck was out of the driveway!” and she would tell me about her ride, or several of her ex-students who helped take care of her horses when she was away. At the end of March she wrote me an email, because she could no longer speak. She said: “Please pass this on if anyone asks…..

    I have good days

    I have bad days

    Ride to live---Live to ride!”

    On April 10, Nancy left us. I have been struggling, since her leaving Mid-Peninsula two years ago, with how to fill the gap left by the other half of the English Department. I have tried--believe me I have. But I do not have a coaxing voice, nor a soft glove…and even if I did, it would never be as soft as hers. The glove just doesn't fit. There is only one glove like that; and it belongs to Nancy.

Last Modified on April 20, 2010