The passing of Dorothy McIntosh on Monday has touched literally thousands of current and past Brownwood residents, and rightfully so. Those who came up through Brownwood schools have pointed to many educators through the years who they say helped shape, direct and guide them through adolescence and prepare them for life, but foremost among those giants have been Gordon Wood and Miss Mac.
A large crowd gathered at Coggin Avenue Baptist Church on Thursday afternoon to say their goodbyes to her.
Miss Macís death came at a time when Iíve been reflecting on the a similar influence in my young life. Ironically, this lady was also the choral music director of the school system in North Carolina where I attended through ninth grade. More significantly, she was the founder and director of a boys choir of which I was a charter member. The choir has performed for governors and presidents, has toured the East Coast and Europe, and has a standing date for a Public Television show each Christmas.
Iíve been thinking back because that choir will celebrate its 50th anniversary this summer, and I hope to be able to attend and join an alumni choir that will perform with this yearís group of young boys. I hope theyíve added a bass line to their scores.
In September 2005, I wrote the following column that tied all this together. Miss Mac told me she appreciated it. So, I offer it again as my tribute to her.
I didnít have the opportunity myself during school, but it sounds as though Dorothy McIntosh is the type of teacher every young person needs to have at least once in the dozen or so years they spend in class. Hundreds and hundreds of her former students canít be wrong.
The Brownwood school boardís decision to put her name on the high schoolís new fine arts center is a superb move, and congratulations to those who proposed it.
I was stuck in other states of my parentsí choosing until after high school. But after I was finally free to find my way to Brownwood, Texas, I realized I did have one teacher Iím convinced was from the same mold as Miss McIntosh.
Her name was Miss Eva Wiseman, and she too was the choral director for the local school system. Itís not a new discovery, actually, because over the years Iíve always found the parallels between these two educators to be amazing.
Our family moved away from the city where she taught before I reached high school, so I never was a student in one of her classes. But because she organized a community boys choir from the elementary and junior high ranks, I was fortunate enough to have her as a ďteacherĒ much longer than would have otherwise been possible ó six years.
And, just as Brownwood residents have stated about Miss McIntosh, Miss Wiseman successfully taught much more than music and music appreciation.
We learned about history, because it affected the music we sang. We learned about manners and social graces, because we were representing a city and a sponsoring organization whenever we traveled to perform. We learned about teamwork, because it was important to know how what we were singing fit within the whole. We learned about planning ahead with goals in mind, because Christmas programs had to be practiced months in advance. We learned about getting along with people of different cultures and backgrounds, because how else would a boy whose parents grew up in South Carolina come to be best friends with a boy whose parents grew up in China?
And we learned about life.
One of those lessons involved being prepared for opportunities. Our accompanist, an elementary grade music teacher in the school system, seemed to be a talented enough musician. But he became ill on the Friday afternoon as we rehearsed at a large Methodist church where we were going to sing on the following Sunday morning. The church organist ó who had showed up to unlock the front door ó volunteered to finish the rest of the rehearsal.
Just play the parts, Miss Wiseman suggested, because the music we sang was advanced college-level material.
ďWell, letís give it a go,Ē I remember him saying as he thumbed through our stacks of music. The flair and precision of his sight-reading literally caused Miss Wisemanís jaw to drop.
At the end of the rehearsal, Miss Wiseman asked the church organist to linger a few minutes to talk. We never saw the other accompanist again.
We also learned something about humility. I was in the choir for years before I came to appreciate the scope of Miss Wisemanís own talent. We were appearing in another, even larger church on a Sunday morning, and the congregational singing, to put it kindly, was uninspired. We normally would sing softly during the hymns to save our voices for the concert. But as the first verse of the second hymn was ending, she walked among the four dozen boys in the choir and said, ďLetís open it up.Ē
We gave it our all, which we thought was pretty darn good, thank you. But what a shock it was to hear Miss Wisemanís soprano soaring above us all. Then the congregation caught on, and they let loose as well. Miss Wiseman had more left still, and she resonated over perhaps 1,000 others singing in glorious accord.
We never knew.
The inspiration and motivation students receive from teachers like Miss McIntosh and Miss Wiseman cannot be measured by any standardized test or professional review. These are lessons that bear fruit years ó even decades ó later, and the benefits to society are perpetual.
Gene Deason is editor of the Brownwood Bulletin. His column appears on Friday. He may be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.