The following is an extract of a tribute delivered by Leela Ramdeen at the September 27 funeral of Mary Joyce Robinson at St Paul’s RC Church, Couva.
Today we say farewell to Mary Joyce Robinson who, at 74 years old, died on September 19. She was a woman of God who discerned her call to live out her Christian vocation to holiness in the classroom. She saw teaching as not just a job or a career, but a vocation.
She allowed the potter to mould her with His loving hands throughout her life, and she, in turn, helped to guide/mould/shape the lives of thousands of women, men, and children whom she taught over a period of 55 years, forming consciences; building character; and motivating us to set high standards for ourselves.
Teaching requires quality leadership, and she was a leader par excellence. So dedicated was she to her profession, that after her retirement, having served for 41 years in the classroom (38 years of which was spent teaching at Holy Faith Convent, Couva, where she was a past student), her role as a teacher continued.
One of her former students, journalist Sharmain Baboolal said: “Miss Robinson’s formula for excellence was simple enough. She declared ‘I fuss over children all the time about the quality of the work. I don’t correct scrap.’ When she said that to a Form One class, a student wrote on her Math copybook: ‘Miss Robinson is allergic to scrap.’
“Even with failing eyesight, she gave one-on-one lessons to students because their parents— who would have also been her students from another generation—insisted on it…She spread love wherever she went, so she reaped the rewards, unwittingly, without soliciting. Imagine she was in the vegetable mart trying to get a few things and she heard a voice saying ‘Whatever she needs put that on my tab’. With her eyesight not so good she turned around to seek the voice only to find her past student, Brigadier General Rodney Smart, the then Chief of T&T’s Defence Force.
“She has said: ‘I credit my student years at Holy Faith with a lot of the good things that people see in me’…All I have done is live my life as best as I could, as happily as I could, enjoying all that came my way…I really love people.’ And what was the hallmark of her incredible service of which she was downright modest? It is etched in the reactions and the testimonies of the students who remained an integral part of her life to the end.”
Her commitment and passion for teaching and her students are legendary. She came into my life in 1963. She was my Latin teacher in Form Two. She was always well-prepared and knew the content of the subjects that she taught—Latin, Maths, English, French, and Religious Knowledge.
Miss Robinson used her knowledge and skills to transform our lives; nurturing in us morals, values and virtues. She remained an inspiration to many, including me, after we left HFC.
She attended parties at my home and those of others on many occasions. Even as I held her frail hand when I visited her at her home in St James a few days before she passed, she laughingly said: “Your class always act as though I am one of you. I was your teacher….Anyhow, I love you all; you are all my own.”
Miss Robinson was our mentor, friend, adviser, role model, and more. She lived a purpose driven life as co-creator with Christ; playing her indispensable role in carrying out His redemptive work.
Today, we look back in gratitude to Miss Robinson who laboured in the Lord’s vineyard purposefully, relentlessly to achieve her goals; selflessly sharing her many God-given gifts with thousands of us.
She has demonstrated that teachers matter. She has left us an enduring legacy, not only as an exemplar in the field of education, but as a warm, caring, compassionate human being; someone who went the extra mile.
She was known to bring sandwiches for a student whose mother had lost her job; she would give a lift to school to another student whom she knew had no money to afford the bus fare.
While she accepted an award at a Women of Worth ceremony in March this year, she refused to let us apply for a National Award for her while she was on this earth.
But I know that as she enters the Lord’s House, there will be a huge banner that reads: “Welcome home, thou good and faithful servant”.
We love you, Mary Joyce Robinson. We thank God for your life. Your sterling contribution to humanity will live on for generations to come. May you rest in peace. Amen.