“’I don’t care what Donny Osmond says, one bad apple will spoil the whole bunch.’ This statement was made by my sixth grade teacher, Miss Joan Davis; a wonderful, funny lady whose gentle nature, deep faith and just all around good sense has enriched my life more than I’ll ever be able to tell her. She sought to avoid the domino effect of bad behavior on our class, but as with so many other things she has taught me over the years, this particular lesson transcends the boundaries of the classroom.”
That’s the first paragraph of a column I wrote for the Danville Advocate Messenger a few years ago. When I asked for her permission to tell that story, Miss Davis was typically modest about her positive influence on her students’ lives. Had it not been for Miss Davis’ guidance and encouragement, however, I would not have had the ability or the confidence to write anything. Any one of her former students will tell you the same thing – she had a knack for discerning our talents and helping us develop them. Walking into her classroom was like being enveloped in a warm, soft fleece blanket. You knew you were safe, that your skills would be praised and your flaws overlooked, or gently discouraged. Always gently.
Miss Davis was not, however, a pushover. She never raised her voice that I can remember, yet she held total sway over her classroom. If we were less than attentive to the lesson she was teaching, she simply stopped speaking. Standing in front of us, usually with her hands folded and a pleasant expression on her face, she waited until we got the hint and settled down. When she resumed speaking, it was in an even softer tone that had us leaning forward in our seats to catch her every word. That tactic might not work on today’s students, but let me tell you it sure worked on us.
I lost touch with Miss Davis for several years after leaving Glendover Elementary. In reflection, I really believe it was divine intervention that prompted me to find her again. Her influence was missing in my life, and even if I didn’t realize it, God did. The blessing of being her student blossomed into an adult friendship, and the way she lived her life continued to teach me invaluable lessons for the next 42 years.
Her sense of humor is legendary, and more often than not our nightly phone conversations inspired helpless laughter in both of us. When she asked me a year or so ago to write a eulogy for her, Miss Davis absolutely forbade me from mentioning some of the really funny stuff, so suffice it to say that at one point I was inspired to nickname her “The Wayward Schoolmarm”.
Miss Davis told me that the hardest part of teaching was letting us go at the end of the year. After giving us everything she had during the school year, catching glimpses of the adults we would become, and providing the love and support than only Miss Davis could give, she had to let us go. She had to release us to our destinies, to bigger and better things. Knowing in her heart that it was inevitable didn’t make it any easier for her, just as it doesn’t make it any easier for us to let her go. But we know that she has beautifully and completely fulfilled her destiny; that she, too, goes on to bigger and better things. She has left us for a place where there is no pain, where her incredible soprano will ring out pure and strong, and where knowledge is infinite. And wherever there’s a group of giggling angels, it’s a safe bet that Miss Davis will be right in the middle of them.
One quick word to the educators gathered here today, both retired and “active duty” – don’t ever doubt that you have made a difference in this world. Some of your students may stay in touch, some may not, but please, know in your heart of hearts that you have made this planet a better place.
Joan Phyllis Davis was a marvelous lady who has been an inspiration on so many levels, a mentor, and a treasured friend. My deepest love and gratitude to you, Miss Davis, for always bringing out the best in me, and in all of us.