Marjorie Myers tribute

Miss Marjorie Myers

 was dignified, elegant as if to the Manor born, Marjorie Alice Myers was as imposing in stature as she was commanding in personality. There was no question that she was royalty. The question was, of what rank? Certainly, it was not Princess or Duchess or Queen Consort. She needed no man to give her status. Empress, she was, as evidenced by her leadership, power, and grace.

Marjorie A. Myers was born on December 7, 1924, in Port Antonio, Portland. Miss Myers received her early education at the Titchfield School where she excelled as a student. To prove that her excellent school record was not confined to the boundaries of this small parish capital at the eastern end of the island Miss Myers became the first female in Jamaica to complete an external Bachelor’s Degree from London University. Having proved that she could scale the walls of London University from abroad in the high culture of English Literature, she then went there personally to conquer London University from the inside by successfully completing the Master’s Degree.

Returning to her native land her career spanned stints as a teacher at the secondary level where she was a teacher of English at Cathedral High School in Spanish Town and later at Ardene High School in Kingston. Then Miss Myers moved to the Tertiary level when as Vice Principal she teamed with Professor Aubrey Phillips to do the pioneering work of founding the Moneague Teachers College in 1956. When Professor Phillips moved to take up a post in the University of the West Indies she then succeeded him as Principal of Moneague.

In 1964 she became the Principal of Shortwood Teachers College. Again Miss Myers was breaking new ground in Jamaican education as she became the first Jamaican of colour to become Principal of Shortwood, founded in 1884. When she retired in 1988 she had broken the record of length or service as a principal of the college as she became the longest serving Principal of that institution. I am sure that her staff and students will give a full and detailed report of her contribution to the development of the college. Suffice it to say that during the period she was principal she presided over the transformation of the college from a small institution training primary teachers to a large institution training primary and secondary teachers of high quality.

By the time that she retired Miss Myers had become the doyen of the principals of teachers colleges. She organized retreats of the principals around difficulties being faced in delivering high-quality teachers education, skilfully guided discussions so that constructive decisions were made and kept the group together even when there were different views and opinions on important issues.

It was Marjorie Myers who led a delegation of principals of teachers colleges to the new Minister of Education, Dr Mavis Gilmore, in 1980 that proposed the policy framework for the abandonment of the experiment of the Two Year Plus Internship model of teacher training. That delegation was successful in convincing the Minister to make the policy changes that created the new Three Year Diploma that raised standards in teacher education, as is still the major modality of training teachers in Jamaica today. To illustrate the mettle of Miss Myers, the Minister of Education set up a Task Force to study the situation and make recommendations with respect to the new framework for Teacher Education. The Minister named Miss Myers as the Convenor. After about two months, Marjorie called me to say that I had better take over as the Chairman of the Task Force as it appeared to her that some of the leading figures among the partners in the teacher education enterprise were not comfortable with a principal as the chairman. I was extremely reluctant to replace her but she was adamant and assured me that she would organise it, which she did. To Marjorie Myers, advancing teacher education was the important thing and she would ensure this goal in a selfless manner.

Miss Myers was one of the founding principals of the Joint Board of Teacher Education when it was formed in 1965. In her 23 years as a member of the Joint Board, she tutored and guided many neophyte members, like me, until we could find our feet. She was also a leading and guiding light in the formation of the Jamaica Association of Teacher Educators, JATE, in 1979. While she pushed me into becoming the first President, Majorie Myers was a driving force and steady hand in the bringing together teacher educators across the country into an association and firming grounding that body within the wider framework of the Jamaica Teachers Association.

But I will remember Marjorie Myers mainly as my friend. One of my treasured possessions is a card, engineered by Marjorie as the doyen of the principals of teachers colleges and given to me by my colleague principals when I left Mico for the University. It had all the tell-tail signs of Marjorie: tasteful art and a quote from a great poet. That card is framed and hangs on a wall in my house.  It reads

“One of the purest and most enduring human pleasures is to be found in the possession of a good name among one’s neighbours and acquaintances.” As far as I am concerned, these lines are more true of Marjorie than of me. Marjorie had a good name among even those that were not exactly her friends.

Life is not all sunshine. Some rain falls in everybody’s life, once you live long enough. In those times nothing seems to go right. During one such period in my life, I remember losing two cars in quick succession. I drove to Cornwall College to speak at their Prize Giving. I parked the car on a hill close to the Principal’s house. Two hours after staying parked the car decided to roll off the hill and crash. The strange thing was that the transmission was still in park and the hand-brake up even in its crashed position. This happened two months after the car was no longer eligible for comprehensive insurance. Well, I had an old car that should have been sold so I decided to fix it up. One month after fixing it up it caught fire and burned completely. With no insurance money, and being of a peasant mentality that avoids borrowing except in cases of life or death, I started the process of saving to buy a car. During that time I took taxis, the bus or walked if it was cool enough.

One day Marjorie called me to say that she had a big favour to ask me, could I come to see her. When I went to see her she told me that she was going on leave and going abroad for six months. She needed some to take care of her car. Could I do her the favour of keeping her car for her during this period? As I listened to her making the case why I was the only person that could take good care of her car, I learned a lesson in how friends help each other in difficult times, while allowing the ones being helped to retain their dignity.

Marjorie was not one of those Christians that wore her Christianity on her sleeves; it was evident in her walk and in her actions. She was a lay preacher in the Anglican Church and a stalwart at the Half-Way-Tree Parish Church. There can be no doubt that Marjorie contribution to education was part of her reasonable service to her Lord and Master. She served long. She served well. She served with love. She did her duty to her students, to her staff, and to her colleagues. In so doing she made an invaluable contribution to the development of teacher education in modern Jamaica.