By Edison Jefford
“Don’t do anything bad. Never
say anything bad about anybody.
I have love. That is what I have.
That’s all I need really. ”
In a generation where secular humanist principles are significantly impacting the core of both the colonial and post-colonial eras of human values, transcendent individuals such as 94-year-old Georgiana Albertha Roach stand out like a beacon. We must cherish such persons.
In cricketing parlance, 94 not out in an innings is deserving of a special commendation, especially when the innings was one of quality. “Teacher Georgie”, as this week’s Special Person is more fondly known, has lived more than an unmistakably productive and meaningful life, graciously guiding several generations.
This beloved teacher, social worker and performer from Hague on the West Coast of Demerara still has a lucid knowledge of her life, which, though it had difficulties, was guided by morals, strong values and persistence.
“Boy, what must I tell you, I make life just as it is. I’m quite well up to now, because you know I can get up and I can dance or sing a little and make you feel nice,” was the introduction I got from a person who was willing to demonstrate that she still can perform dances and melodious songs as a nonagenarian.
It was the first of quite a number of spontaneous renditions of songs and dances during what was more of a semi-concert, with the other half of my presence being attributed to the actual interview that was done at ‘Teacher Georgie’s’ West Ruimveldt home.
Her humble life moved from Hague to Princes Street, Wortmanville where her career as one of the most respected kindergarten teachers began at 16 years old, when she ambitiously opened and managed the Princessville Kindergarten School in the district.
She remembers the liberty that parents afforded her in an effort to have their children be guided in the right direction.
“No parents ever came to me and say I must not do this or I must not that. They would encourage me, they would tell me ‘Teacher Georgie’ burst they tail,” she said, “I like the life and teaching, I would do everything in those days,” the stalwart boldly added.
Even as the debate over corporate punishment in schools continue, it became clear that there was much support from parents from the 1930s onwards for the course of action. ‘Teacher Georgie’ was clear that there were established reasons for teachers beating students.
“If I give children a lash don’t tell your mother because you will get more, I won’t lash you without a cause,” she stressed, adding that her lessons were so effective that most of the children in those days went directly to primary one after passing through her classes. And she has dealt with thousands of children.
The sixth of ten children, and one of only two alive for Thomas and Gertrude Wharton, believes that she was always something special for her parents, because she showed that ambition when at only 16 years old she became an entrepreneur.
“I was always something…a support for my mother. When it would get more than her she would say Georgie what are we going to do girl. But I would always tell her, ‘things do happen sometimes; sometimes it is no food, but you must always be satisfied with the little you have.
That’s how I was raised,” a lot more seriously postured ‘Teacher Georgie’ recounted.
She was born in 1915 and will be celebrating her 95th birthday on September 22. Following what she said was 25 plus years at her Princessville Kindergarten School, she got employment at what was then and remains until today, Freeburg Primary School.
Asked about her passion for the Performing Arts, ‘Teacher Geogie’ belted out a serene rendition of the archaic chorus ‘Pretty Little Butterfly’ before she recalled conducting voice training amid ballroom dancing sessions for children performing in concerts.
“You can’t stop me with that boy,” she said, “I would get everybody at the Town Hall’s attention; I would say ‘all rise’, it is time for us to begin, and from then the music begins and I would sing a song and the children would start singing with me,” she recollected.
Her obvious passion for the Performing Arts was so overwhelming that hordes of people would often flock her productions. She said that she even provided the outfits for her performers when they were unable to do so, for whatever reason(s), on their own.
‘Teacher Geogie’ said those were the values that drove people in those days: love, sharing and
caring. She was pellucid that these are the guiding principles of human relationships, and indicated that those were all intrinsic in the many lessons she thought thousands of children.
“Don’t do anything bad. Never say anything bad about anybody. I have love. That is what I have. That’s all I need really. I did plenty in my life… so much I did, and I am still trying to do more. People would tell you how much they have reaped from me because they didn’t have and I’ve been always willing to share. It’s just me.” she noted thoughtfully.
The renowned teacher spent a number of years living in the Wortmanville area before leaving to take up residence in West Ruimveldt, where her community service has been so outstanding that she has been responsible for the education of most of the neighbourhood.
“I have done a lot. I think I am respected for that. The neighbours are nice. No matter how I talk to them, they never use a bad word to me and they never complain.
I would call the children together and I would advise them that rather than ‘straying’, get a book and read,” ‘Teacher Georgie’ continued.
She related that in the cases where some of the children did not have the resources to buy books, she would give them the money to purchase reading material. She believes that attitude over the years has earned her the respect she has enjoyed in the community.
‘Teacher Georgie’ has had the opportunity to enjoy many countries across the world, and has had many successes as well as other favourable experiences, but she admitted having her fair share of challenges.
During her years as a Kindergarten teacher she was married to Reginald Roach, who passed away in 1995. Their union bore ten children.
She said that it was sometimes difficult raising so many children. “When it was too much, at times I would just call my daughter and say, ‘Joy, we don’t have curry today or we don’t have rice today, what we are going to do?’ And she would tell me what to do, just as I would do with my mother” she revealed.
‘Teacher Georgie’ made it clear that despite the difficult financial and other circumstances there was never a moment when she cultivated the attitude of debt. She said that was one of the things that she was strong against and another lesson she taught children.
“We would go around at the shop and get a little this and that. But I didn’t owe the shopkeeper; I tried not to owe him. Eat a little bit to live long.
I would get up and sing and dance and say ‘Joy girl let’s just give a dance and somebody would bring something or we would get something. That’s how positive I learnt to live,” she asserted.
She said that much of life is based on how an individual lives it and she is contented how she has lived her life, because of the fulfilment that she got. Her humility was even clearer when with a firm hand she would reach out to shake mine constantly, a reminder of her guiding qualities.
It became clear that this was a woman with purpose and she was happy with her results. This was a woman with strong ideals. As her great grandson and she has many, played in the yard behind us, she was sure to warn him of the dangers of his engagement.
Returning to our conversation, she was sure to indicate, “Sorry son, you know boys”. In 20 minutes, I realised that I had been interacting with a woman of substance. Someone who is worthy of every inch of the space that would be afforded today in our ‘Special Person’ column.
Asked what would be her advice to this generation, she said: “I still give them a good name. I do not have anything bad to say about them. They must accept guidance; that is the key to success and a fruitful existence. Life is nice and you must demand the things you want from it. I can’t complain, up to now I am satisfied with the life I have lived.”
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