Tuesday, September 03, 2013 9:39 PM
Catherine Taylor a teacher you don't forget
By Lisa Boykin Batts | Times Life Editor
I was a junior the year Hunt High School opened. It was a unique year of firsts with an inaugural football team, a new building still under construction and lots of new people to meet.
Along with many of my friends, I decided to take journalism that first year — 1978 — and ended up in Catherine Taylor’s class. When we’re young, we never consider how a simple decision can change our lives. But my decision to take that class instead of yearbook or another elective shaped my future. So did Cat Taylor.
Mrs. Taylor was a tiny dynamo. She could be calm and she could be feisty, sometimes in the same sentence. She could control a roomful of rowdy high school students with her evil-eye stare. And, oh, how we hated to get her mad. But at the same time, there were many in our group who lived to make her mad by doing things as simple as coming into class late, or sitting on a desk, or leaving the classroom in a mess.
When I read her obituary Tuesday morning, I closed my eyes and remembered her tiny self, arms crossed and leading a discussion in a very small workroom where we first met at Hunt. We, her journalism students, were deciding what to name Hunt’s student newspaper.
She led our discussions and our decision as we chose the name The Oracle, reflecting the time frame of our warrior mascot, and work got started on naming editors and writing stories and basically starting from scratch.
Some of the happiest years of my schooling were spent in my high school journalism classes those two years. I loved Mrs. Taylor, and I loved writing stories and seeing the newspaper come together. I also really loved the freedom of going out during class time and selling ads!
Although at the time I didn’t see it, Mrs. Taylor, who called me Li’l Lisa, challenged us on so many levels and helped me grow and mature as an adult as well as a writer. She gave me story ideas and writing lessons, sure, but she also taught me to be firm and to go after what I wanted, especially when it came to the quality of the newspaper.
She also encouraged me to challenge our principal, John W. Jones, when I wanted something for the newspaper. I remember one particular encounter in his office when I went to him for more funding. I was scared going in, and I argued a little more than I had planned, but I stated my case, just as Mrs. Taylor had coached me to do, and I won.
Mrs. Taylor also taught us how to be sneaky, circumventing school rules and selling candy on the side so we could buy things we needed for the paper, such as layout paper and lining tape for ads or extra pages in the next edition. Those were the old days, remember, before digital newspaper layout.
I was humbled and shocked when Mrs. Taylor named me editor-in-chief for my senior year. I worked hard and continued to learn, and when I got to Atlantic Christian College, it served me well; I was editor there for awhile, too.
I left ACC’s newspaper at graduation and came to work at The Wilson Times. I still saw Mrs. Taylor from time to time. She’d have business at the newspaper — often with her beloved sorority, Delta Sigma Theta, her church or during her 16 years on the Wilson County Board of Education — and would stop in my office. I’d hear her coming down the hall saying, "Li’l Lisa!” (even though I wasn’t so little anymore!) and I’d know it was her. I was always so glad to see her.
A few years ago, my daughter was doing a photography project and took photos of Mrs. Taylor and her sweet husband, Roderick, having dinner in their home. It was the first and only time I visited her immaculate home, and on this particular visit I got to sample her delicious fried chicken and get a peek into her personal life. That was one of the last times I talked to her. I am so thankful for that short but sweet visit.
It’s amazing to me how a stranger can come into your life when you’re just a teenager and how her influence can stay with you for the rest of your life.
Thank you, Mrs. Taylor, for being my teacher and for believing in me.
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