My interview with Bryan “Skipper” was inspiring — ten hours of taped conversation with a man who had seen so much in his eighty-three years.
He told me about his childhood in Texas and coming west in a covered wagon. He talked extensively about the odd jobs he held as a young man and riding the rails on his way to New Mexico. He described the education he received at SMU in the mid-1920s. He told stories about his family and his fifty-plus years as a Methodist minister. I was enthralled.
In a matter-of-fact tone he had also talked about some of the great tragedies of his life. Six years before I interviewed him a forest fire had destroyed the cabin where he and his wife had lived for twenty years. With the help of their children they had built the cabin in the 1950s with their own hands. They were both in their seventies when the fire destroyed everything they owned.
He also described the recent loss of his wife after a long illness and much suffering. He had been married to her over fifty years. He also talked about the tragic loss of his son in a car accident only a year before I interviewed him. He told the story about what happened to his son with little sentimentality, little emotion. Old-world stoicism, I thought. Things happen. Life goes on.
During the hours I spent with Skipper, he lost control of his emotions only once — when talking about a teacher he had not seen for almost seventy years. The teacher had tried to keep him from dropping out of school, and when he was telling me about her his voice broke and his eyes filled with tears.
"I had a teacher named Morton and she was one of the best teachers I ever had. She was the only one I remember by name. She begged me not to leave school; in fact, she cried about it. Later in life I tried to find her, I wrote back to San Angelo but they couldn’t locate her.… I tried to find her to tell her I went back to school, but I couldn’t find her."
When speaking these words Skipper lost his composure and motioned for me to turn off the tape recorder. He needed a moment to wipe his eyes and get control of himself. I respected his wishes and did not record his weeping.
|Bryan "Skipper" Hall|
SMU Student Body President, 1925-1926
Teachers might be well served to know that story. In the midst of all the hard work and frustration that comes with teaching — during the dark days when teachers often doubt whether they can even remain in the classroom — they can think about Skipper Hall and the teacher who touched him so deeply. Skipper's story should give teachers a broader sense of the importance of their work and the tremendous influence they can have on students.
If you are a teacher, think for a moment about how seventy years from now an elderly person who has already lived a long, productive, and inspiring life might be thinking fondly of you and how you affected them. It's a humbling thought.
Skipper Hall taught me that teaching can reach far into the future, providing young people with wisdom, hope, and inspiration to last a lifetime.Teaching is, indeed, a noble profession.
If you would like to know more about Bryan “Skipper” Hall, I have published a book based on the interview I conducted back in 1980.
© 2012 James L. Smith