(Mrs. Frankie Gauthier 1919-2014)
Good morning everyone. Please take a minute to look around at the folks sitting in your area. Take just a second to acknowledge each other with a nod, a smile, and maybe even a handshake. Pay attention to the range of ages among the folks you see. Chances are very good that seated near you are more than one person who was a student of Mrs. Frankie Gauthier’s and/or that you yourself was a student of hers at one time. Chances are very good that you are the parent of someone who was a student of hers or that you are sitting near more than one person who was the parent of one or more of those students. And the chances are also very good that near you are the children of someone who was a student of Mrs. Frankie’s. But whether those around you are former students, parents of former students, or the children of those students, it’s a near 100% good bet that they all feel the same way about Mrs. Frankie Gauthier.
When I heard the news of her passing, there were so many thoughts and memories that raced through my head. Just like many of you, I thought about the last time I saw her. I immediately had memories of the last telephone conversation I had with her as that particular visit replayed in my mind. I recalled a few special moments from long ago in the halls and the classrooms of Cottonport High School. But, one thing that I did not think about . . . was how many birthdays Mrs. Frankie had been able to celebrate. It never even occurred to me to ask this question of the friends and former classmates who contacted me to share the sad news of her passing. I didn’t think about this completely common question at all, until it was eventually asked of me. I then realized that it was perhaps somewhat odd that I had not been prepared to answer this question. But, it occurred to me that this lady, whom we consider to be the best educator we had ever been blessed with, was an absolute timeless icon.
Although decades have passed since we all sat in her class, that feeling we had when she greeted us back then has not faded a bit from our collective memories. Although I sometimes can’t recall what I had for breakfast, that warm and comforting environment Mrs. Frankie created in her classroom remains forever quite vivid in the parts of our brains that experience pleasure. There is no tapering off of our recollections when it comes to matters involving this particular teacher . . . memories in her classroom, in the halls, in the school yard, and memories of her out and about in our little bayou town. We humans tend to hold on to the best memories of our childhood and Mrs. Frankie Gauthier was most certainly a big part of our best memories. She was indeed . . . and will always be . . . a timeless icon in our lives.
Mrs. Frankie strived relentlessly to guide us toward a special understanding of how much life could be contained in written words . . . and she worked very hard at teaching us how to make sure that our own written words were filled full of that life. To a casual observer visiting her classroom for a brief period, her teaching style may not have seemed much different than that of other teachers in nearby classrooms. But anyone who spent just a few extra class cycles with her could not help but begin to notice what the highest level of teaching excellence looked like. She had a delivery that was both gentle and powerful at the same time. She had command of the classroom and had control of every student’s attention span. Her ability to accomplish this was not due to the class being populated with perfectly reared and well behaved children, it was rooted in a style she had of making ever lesson incredibly interesting and profoundly important to each and every one of us. Many of us who may have slouched in geography or snoozed in civics seemed to acquire an unexpected second wind as soon as we crossed the threshold of her classroom. Those of us who yawned in math and daydreamed in science sat up straight in Mrs. Frankie’s classroom . . . and we absorbed as much as we could from this teacher who we all respected so very much . . . perhaps because she showed so much respect for each of us.
Everyone has thought, at one time or another, that Mrs. Frankie loved English and literature more than anything else in life. It certainly appeared that way to all of her students because of the enthusiastic level of energy she put into helping us grasp certain concepts and master important skills. But, I think we were all wrong. What Mrs. Frankie really loved more than anything else in the world is sitting all around you right now. What she treasured most in life was her family, her friends, and her students. Above all, she valued the relationships she had with each and every person that was a part of her life. More than anything else, she loved being a mother, a grandmother, and a great grandmother. She reveled in her family’s love and cherished her time watching it grow. It was only fitting that her children respected and admired her, honored her, and provided a deservedly dignified environment to enjoy as she entered her more senior years. And I personally want to stress to you five children . . . Phil, Chris, Dick, Andre, and Guy . . . you are all owed an enormous debt of gratitude from all of us. You unselfishly shared your mother with our school and with our community. There have been more people than you could ever imagine keeping all of you and your families in their thoughts these last few days. There are so many good folks living near and far that are joining you today in the joy of having known this most gracious lady and having been blessed to be a part of her life. We all thank you for the happiness you brought to her. We all thank you for the generosity you showed her. More than anything else, her satisfaction was in seeing your happiness and that of your own offspring. Your time with her was priceless. Your memories of her are timeless. You, all of her children, are what she loved most about life and what absolutely brought her the most happiness and pleasure.
Woven seamlessly into Mrs. Frankie’s invaluable family life were the many friendships she treasured and the interactions she so enjoyed with her students. It was quite clear watching her lead a class, or catching her lend an extra hand, that she truly loved her students. She loved us all so much that she worked harder than anyone else I know to give us the best possible chance in life. She did this by keeping up that unmatched level of energy in every class she taught and with every student she was responsible for. She knew better than anyone else that if she could succeed at giving us a working knowledge of the language skills she strived to teach us, our adult existence would be much easier, much more fulfilling, much more successful, and would have a much better chance of overflowing with love, happiness, family, and friends. She truly believed that the greatest gift she could give these people she cared about, her students, was this huge advantage in their lives during the years following high school graduation. And you know what . . . I’d say she was right on the money.
It’s quite easy for me to stand up here and proclaim that every person who ever had Mrs. Frankie as a teacher will tell you that she was the absolute best and most well-liked teacher there ever was at Cottonport High and at any other school in the world. It’s easy for me to make this proclamation because I’ve been hearing it consistently from the time I was in school through today, some four decades later, and I know I’ll continue to hear it tomorrow . . . and on into the future. With the advent of the internet, email, and social media, there is a much larger sampling of this unwavering opinion in the past few years than there ever was before. And even though forty years have passed since I left Cottonport High School, and even though many more teachers have entered the mix since I was gone, that consensus is still loud and clear. Oh yes, we all have a second favorite teacher. But those number two choices of ours make for a rather lengthy list, even single spaced. We all have differing opinions on who ranked second as the students’ favorite, but there is positively no difference of opinion, not even a smidgen, on Mrs. Frankie being far and away the number one teacher of all times. So . . . for anyone here today who might have been an educator at Cottonport High during the time that Mrs. Frankie Gauthier was there, you should feel really good about possibly being tied with so many well-liked and respected teachers . . . who also came in second :-)
What other outcome was even possible? Mrs. Frankie was an exceptional teacher! She was truly gifted in the art of delivering knowledge to a huge variety of students in individually, custom-wrapped methods that worked for each one of those often divergent personalities. Every mind was important to her and she felt it worth her time to search for just the right keys to open that mind. And when she found those keys, she used them effectively to make learning exciting and pleasurable for each of us. Of course she was the all-time favorite! She was the best at everything she did in her classroom.
But . . . what put Mrs. Frankie Gauthier head and shoulders above the rest was not anything she learned while she earned her teaching credentials. What put her in a league of her own was an unmatched level of kindness, a truly loving spirit, and the heart of an angel. This lady could instill a measure of confidence in those who had absolutely no confidence. This teaching angel could calm a struggling student with unscripted encouragement from a very natural ability that was rarely seen in others. I truly believe that she was capable of moving a person’s perception of themselves further along a positive path in just one school year, than most of us mere mortals can do for someone else’s self-confidence in a decade. This was not a skill she was trained in. This was indeed just an artful display of her genetically coded talent, rooted in a heart of pure gold. We all saw something very special in her, because she made us all feel like she saw something very special in each of us.
Now look around one more time. Look a little further out from your seat this time. Take note of a few more people in your area. There are many very thankful people around you. Some are thankful to have had Mrs. Frankie as a teacher. Some are thankful to have had her as a part of their family. Many are thankful to have had her as a friend or an acquaintance. I always enjoyed hearing one or both of my parents relaying to me news of a chance encounter they had with her. They always sounded so glad to have run into her while going about daily life in this little bayou town, and were so grateful to have been able to relay to her some news about their sons, her students. Mrs. Frankie always asked about how we boys were doing and what part of the world we were in. My parents didn’t just think she cared about those kind of things relative to her former students; my parents know for a fact that she most certainly did care about those kind of things. She reached out with unparalleled kindness and consideration to everyone she came across, just like she did with my folks, and she touched all of our hearts in so many different and extremely valuable ways. Mrs. Frankie epitomized the richness of humanity and she enveloped every situation with such class, such charm, and a character of immeasurable superiority.
But . . . no matter how skillful a teacher she was . . . no matter how patient and how kind she was with us as students . . . no matter how much energy she put into making us the best readers and writers we could possibly be . . . and no matter how much she loved this artful craft that she so tirelessly and expertly taught to so many of us . . . Mrs. Frankie Gauthier touched some of our hearts in very special ways that we can never, ever accurately or fully explain with the mere tools of these Earthly written words . . .
. . . only a heavenly based language is capable of conveying that message . . .
aka The Easy Cajun