Retired But Not Forgotten


Photo by Chalmers Butterfield

When my friend Marie heard I was going to be visiting my mom at the health care center where she was recuperating from knee replacement surgery, she asked if I would visit Miss Neary, her fourth-grade teacher, who lived in the senior apartments in the same facility. Miss Neary, Marie told me, was her favorite teacher and was still sharp as a tack.

So when I arrived at the facility on Sunday, I made a point to stop by Miss Neary’s apartment. She was delighted to have a visitor and proudly informed me that she was ninety-six, going on ninety-seven. Marie was right, Miss Neary’s mind was indeed sharp; when I asked if she remembered Marie, she smiled and said she remembered all her students form her forty-four years of teaching. Indeed, she told me that the daughter of her neighbor, Mrs. Teske, had been best friends with Marie.

Miss Neary asked if I would give something to Marie: a recent community newspaper that featured a story on her and Delphine, the woman who lived down the hall from where we sat. It turned out that Miss Neary’s new neighbor was an old high school friend from the class of 1932! After all these years, they had found each other and had renewed their friendship. Miss Neary scribbled a note to Marie along with her phone number on the front page of the paper and affixed a return address sticker to it. I promised her I would deliver it to Marie.

As I placed my hand on Miss Neary’s and thanked her for a nice visit, I couldn’t help but think about the countless senior citizens who spend so much of their time in solitude, eager and grateful for any contact with the outside world.

I especially thought of teachers, who are often lauded as the true heroes of society. Yet, my guess is that most retired teachers don’t hear from their former students very often. I encourage you to take a few minutes to let a favorite teacher know that you’ve never forgotten her friendly smile and her kind words.

I’m betting that your note or phone call will mean a lot to her, probably more than you’ll ever know. She made a difference in your life; now you can make a difference in hers.

UPDATE: Marie let me know that Miss Neary passed away on Thanksgiving Day, 2011, at the age of ninety-eight. In her e-mail to me, Marie wrote, “What an impact she had on my life.”

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4 Responses to “Retired But Not Forgotten”

  1. Natasha Acres Says:

    Totally agree Phil, these people shape our lives and make us who we are. We’ve just launched a new site to recognise these type of people and my own personal experience of my inspiring teacher is here:

  2. Phil Bolsta Says:

    Good idea, Natasha! Thanks for doing what you’re doing!

  3. Beth Tickanen Says:

    When I was about 30, I wrote letters to four teachers who had truly made a difference in my life. It felt a little awkward, as I wasn’t certain if they’d even remember me…but they all did. It was truly the right time to do this, as one of those teachers passed away just several months later. She had always been my favorite, and it was a blessing to know that she was aware of just how much she meant to me.

  4. Phil Bolsta Says:

    I’m so glad you did that, Beth. I bet it meant a lot to your teachers. And I know it meant a lot to you.

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