As a tribute to observe St. Lucia’s 35th Independence Day Celebrations on February 22nd, I am featuring 10 St. Lucians on my blog who are making (or have made) a positive difference in uplifting the human spirit and adding inspiration and motivation to the lives of others. Today, I would like to recognize Mrs. Ruth, Magdalena Louis, whom most of us know as Ms. Brett, who was the principal of the Augier Combined School from 1970 – 1979. She in now 76 and I feel blessed that she is still with us and I can say thank you to her for the great impact which she had on my life as a little girl of 3 years old and which until today, she has no idea about!
“Thank you Ms. Brett! Your gentleness, sweetness and empathy for me and others, left an imprint on my life, which I use every day to further help others. By breaking the ‘rules’ you saved me.”
( Mrs. Ruth, Magdalena Louis below embracing her daughter Kay at Kay’s Graduation as a lawyer.)
Here is my recollection of what happened.
My earliest memory of myself is about 3 and a half years old and it is still quite vivid. My mom had six of us and I was the 4th girl. Every morning she walked the three older girls to the Augier Combined School where they all attended school. I was too young to go to school so she would carry me on her hips back to our house which was about 20 minutes away. Every morning, we went through the same drama – she would let the older girls go the school yard and I would start my yelling and screaming, “I want to go to school too!” One day, she lost all patience with me. In my screaming match at the house, she hitched me back on her hips and walked back down the road shouting, “You want to go to school… I will take you to school.” Of course, I got a few spanks along the way too.
And that was the day, I met Ms. Ruth, Magdalene Louis, whom we knew as Ms. Brett. My exasperated mother went to her office (with a dishevelled me) and bluntly said, “Do you have space for this child? Every day she cries that she wants to go to school. I don’t know what to do with her!”
It was the gentleness in Ms. Brett’s eyes I will never forget. She looked at me in the sweetest way and said, “You want to go to school my child?” It was the look that said, “Poor child, I need to save you and save your mother too!”
I nodded “yes.”
Now, I think that my mother’s plan was get me to hear Ms. Brett say that she could not accept me because I was too young to be accepted at the school and the morning drama would stop. Surprisingly, Ms. Brett told my mother to leave me with her that day and she would find a space for me. (On that day, I learnt that rules could be broken because my mother told me all along that the school would not accept me because I was not 5 years old yet.)
That was the first time Ms. Brett saved me. She saved me from staying home with my mother! She placed me in Stage1 and I remember overhearing her conversation with the teacher. “Just keep her in your class because she is too young for us to register her.”
I loved Ms. Brett because she was so sweet and kind to me. She looked out for me because I suppose she knew that I was just a baby really. There were two situations where she intervened and I will never forget them because to a larger extent it inculcated in me a deeper sense of empathy towards the vulnerable, simply because she stood up for me.
The first instance was being in that Stage 1 class. The teacher was not at all pleasant to me. Maybe she did not like me because I was not supposed to be in school. Every single day, she would beat me on my head with an open Math book. It would start out with her calling out the name of each student and would hand them their Math book. She would deliberately ignore me when my hand went up and then after handing out all the books except mine, she would say, “Why didn’t you raise your hand?” and before even hearing my answer, she would beat me with the my Math book on my head. I hated that math period. I hated being beaten and I felt powerless.
One day Ms. Bret walked into the class just when the teacher was about to hit me. I heard her voice say, “Why didn’t you give her the Math book? She raised her hand.” From that day on, the beating stopped but this created a lifelong trauma for me with Mathematics and with that teacher. That was the second time Ms. Brett saved me!
Since I was not an “officially registered” student, by the time I was ready to move to the next grade, she placed me in Stage 2B. Back then the classes were graded A and B, with the “bright students” going to A and the “not too bright” one going to the B class. The Stage 2B teacher was sweet and loved me. Her name was Ms. Edith. I loved being in her class and I won all the prizes for spelling and daily quizzes. By the time that year was over, I had figured out the “A” and “B” system and I knew that I did not belong to a “B” class.
The following school year, I was determined to go to Stage 3B but didn’t know how to do it. One morning, it dawned on me that maybe all I needed to do was just simply go to the Stage 3A line… and I did just that! That morning, my move caused a huge commotion in the school yard. The students in the Stage 3B line started shouting, “Magdalene, come back to your line,” and the students in the Stage 3A line were yelling, “Magdalene, this is NOT your class… go back to your line!” I remained rooted with my little bag on the Stage 3A line.
That was the 3rd time Ms. Brett saved me. She came over and said, “Why are you not on your line?” Again, in her gentle, sweet voice.
“I want to go to Stage 3A,” I answered.
“O.k. You go there only for the morning, but in the afternoon you will have to go back to your class.” She said a bit more firmly.
The students were all shocked but I felt elated that I could go to the “A” class. She spoke to the teacher. That very day, I got a beating from the Stage 3A teacher because I could not spell the word “umbrella” which we had not learnt yet in Stage 3B! Stage 3A was quite a learning curve for me!
I never went back to Stage 3B. I remained in Stage 3A. No one ever told me to go back. I have no idea what Ms. Brett did but she always smiled at me when she run into me at the school. I continued my education as an A student. I often wonder what my life would have been like if I had remained in Stage 3B.
Those examples I have mentioned above may seem to be quite trivial but they were critical in my development as a child. I am grateful to Ms. Brett because as a head teacher she did not have to break those school rules, but she did to give me a chance and to give my mother a break. She did not have to stop the teacher from beating me – she could have ignored it, but she challenged the teacher and protected me. She did not have to let me stay in Stage 3A but she never bothered to send me back to Stage 3B. Most of my life I have worked with vulnerable people – both children and adults. Often enough I have broken a rule to support someone else to get to his or her goal and I often draw strength from people like her, who did what they needed to do for others with humility, integrity and genuine concern.
“Thank you Ms. Brett! I have never told you this story but I am so glad that I have finally let you and the world know, that you are indeed a beautiful and gentle soul, and I was truly blessed to have you in my life at such a young age. Thank you!”
(The picture below is of the beautiful family with her husband Watson Louis, amazing children, in-laws and grand children.)
Sons and daughters of St. Lucia, love the land that gave us birth….keep on flying high!
As we celebrate 35 years of independence, let us all remember that our greatness is in our service to others!
(My mom and I below – I know about the boobs – it’s o.k. It is my favourite picture with her and that makes the boobs o.k :))
TuneIn today to all the people who have been instrumental in shaping your life! StepUp to express gratitude to them and let them know how they inspired your life.
You can also support my Ist TuneIn and StepUp Challenge by joining us for our Independence Day Gala here in Ottawa where we will further celebrate St. Lucia and St. Lucians. Read more: http://tuneinandstepup.com/2014/02/07/my-1st-tunein-and-stepup-challenge-for-2014-supporting-20-families-who-have-been-affected-by-flooding-in-st-lucia/
Yesterday, we recognized three St. Lucians in Ottawa who are making waves in using their talent to bring a Caribbean cultural experience to people in Ottawa. Read more here: http://tuneinandstepup.com/2014/02/16/three-inspiring-st-lucians-in-ottawa-providing-a-culturally-rich-experience-which-brings-the-caribbean-to-the-people-of-ottawa/
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Contact me if you would like me to highlight someone you think is truly inspiring!