PETER WICKHAM: Farewell Auntie
LAST MONDAY, my family lost their matriarch, Daphne Maxwell and Barbados lost yet another educator.
To those of us in the family she was known as “Aunt Daphne” and to those she encountered in the classroom, she was known as Ms Maxwell. In both instances, however, the titles only convey part of the special relationship she shared with her family, students and the families of those students.
Vincentians have a way of saying: “he have to call me Auntie”, which conveys a sense of obligation which is attached to the relationship created by these familial bonds.
Similarly, in Barbados it is now customary for aunts and uncles to shed the title as nieces and nephews grow older and it more appropriate to both call and refer to your parents’ siblings by their first name.
In the case of my aunt, both traditions were inapplicable since in the latter instance we properly understood that the relationship between us and her could not be captured on a “first name” basis, nor did we ever feel confined by the obligatory nature of the familial linkage.
The actual relationship between Aunt Daphne and her clan was both different and special and it was fortunate for us who were part of the family because we effectively had an additional mother in her.
She was for the better part of my life disabled and that was a reality that clearly troubled me more than it did her. This physical limitation did not prevent her from becoming fully immersed in my life and the lives of all the younger folk in the family to whom she gave continuous guidance and lots of love.
Pillar of the community
My auntie was referred to as Ms Maxwell by those she encountered in the classroom or as principal and interestingly enough, also by us in the family who were also educated by her at Eagle Hall Primary.
My mother always remarked that we moved effortlessly between “Aunt Daphne” during home time and “Ms Maxwell”, but it was also amusing to hear my aunt’s disciplinary tone during the summer holidays when she cautioned “don’t let me have to become Ms Maxwell today”.
In her more substantive role as Ms Maxwell, she was close to the Eagle Hall community and was familiar with many of the parents whose children attended her school. She was respected by all of them who generally regarded her as one of the pillars of their community.
She had an “old-fashioned” concept of what a teacher should be and believed her role went beyond the classroom and reached into the homes of several students whose families she also touched positively.
Ms Maxwell was proud of all her students who progressed, but was especially happy to have educated both of the former representatives for the constituency in which the school is located. To her these gentlemen would always be “her boys” and she was resolutely unwilling to entertain a discussion about which of them was “right” and who was “wrong”.
“Ms Maxwell” is the fourth of five children born to Caroline and James A. Maxwell in Eagle Hall, St Michael. She was educated at Mrs Maude Haynes’ Private School and then Queen’s College and always wanted to be a teacher. Her introduction to teaching was as an honorary teacher under the headship of that famous educator Charlie F. Broome at Wesley Hall Boys School where she taught for three years.
Ms Maxwell was eventually appointed in 1943 at Boscobel Girls’ School in St Peter, and was later transferred to schools such as Workman’s Junior School in St George and Hindsbury Girls’ School, St Michael.
Some years later she was appointed head at the Paynes’ Bay Girls’ School, St James, and was later transferred to the Eagle Hall Infants’ School, which was then used as a training centre for the teaching of infant methods.
Under her stewardship, the school was upgraded to that of a primary school in the 1970s. Ms Maxwell remained as headteacher of Eagle Hall Primary for a total of 20 years and has therefore been that institution’s longest serving principal. In 1981, she was forced to retire early and in 2008 she fell at home and was incapacitated until Monday of this week when her spirit was set free.
She now joins the ancestors after a long and productive sojourn which enhanced the lives of many.