A Tribute To One Of The Greatest…

A Tribute To One Of The Greatest…

If you know me or went to high school with me, you knew about my love for one of my high school English teachers, Mrs. Gilbert, or Mama G, as many of us Gilbert on Fire“bubbies” called her. I was obsessed with her — I would hear her over the loud speaker screaming WAKE UP SENIORS, see her walk into my classrooms to talk to my teachers (also her former students), and I would watch her as she sat front and center at every single one of my drama performances. When I learned I would finally have Mrs. Gilbert for English, I was ecstatic. I looked forward to her class every other morning, as she told us stories of how she taught generations of families, how “little old Rosie” (who never won anything in her life) won a sports car, and how she was able to survive even the worst of times.

It became an on-going joke with the people seated around me in her class about how long it would take me to gush over her and freak out over how cute Mrs. Gilbert was. It never took long. You see, I knew I was in the presence of something great. I knew that having a teacher who was 89 years old at the time but had more energy than all of us combined was a rarity. And I knew that whatever she had to teach us would stay with me for a very, very long time.

Mrs. Gilbert became a teacher at Pali High when the school opened in 1961 and worked until this past year. She was one of the oldest, if not the oldest, full time teacher in the nation. Mama G did not accept a salary while working at Pali; she donated generously, giving us a pool, newly renovated theatres,and hundreds of scholarships, just to name a few.

gilbyShe introduced me to my favorite book, The Stranger, pushed me to keep writing, to keep being a creative and even taught me the Charleston as I sat with her making costumes for one of our shows — I would sew and she would teach me all about the 1920s to help me prepare for our production of Thoroughly Modern Millie. If you were a “dramie” in her class, you would come to expect seeing praise on your paper after she attended your show. 

To so many of us, Mama G was invincible. Especially when she would wear her red fire hat and say, “I’m on fire, bubbies!” There was no one like her. I don’t think there will ever be someone like her. I know we don’t live forever, but for some reason, I always expected her to. I really believed she would live long enough to teach my kids. I think we all did. But when she retired this year at 95 years old, I knew the time would come soon. So, Gilbert Retirementwhen the news came in last night that our beloved Mama passed, my heart broke a little. As I logged on to my Facebook, I saw my timeline flooded with statuses about how our Mrs. Gilbert passed away and what an impact she made on thousands of lives. I saw our little Pali High community come together to share stories, express grief, and be there for one another. It is truly beautiful to see what an impact one person can make on so many people. She remembered every single one of her students, remembered where they sat in her class and what they wanted to do. And that makes it all a bit easier.

When I saw her at her retirement party in March, she remembered I went to USC (even though she was a Bruin for life), remembered I was in drama and even recalled how I was able to pass the AP Lit exam without actually being in AP Lit. I told her it was all because of her and the passion she passed onto me. She inspired me. She made me want to read more, to write more, and to give more. And for that, I’m forever thankful to my Mama G. I hope the angels are up there dancing the Charleston with her, just as she did with me. 

xo NM

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Comments (1)

  • Ruth Wechsler Mills says:

    I had Mama G for a demanding class called Power Reading, back in 1969. This was before she began teaching AP English, but I’m pretty sure she packed as much reading into that one-semester class as her later AP students had in their one-year courses. We wrote three two-book comparisons, a three-book comparison, and the dreaded Serious Background Book Report. For that monster, we had to read a non-fiction book–she selected a different lengthy volume for each of her students–and write a critique, citing other scholars in the field. Oh, and the report was due four or five days after she gave us the book. Add to this our 80-word vocabulary list every week, and it’s no wonder that two things I learned to do in her class were to drink coffee (she had a pot always brewing in the back of the classroom) and to pull all-nighters.

    So with all this work, why did we love her so much? Because she treated us as valuable individuals, she taught with passion AND a sense of humor, and she made sure we lived up to our potential–in her class, at least. We knew she loved us. She remembered for decades which books we had read. (“Ruthie! Your Serious Background Book Report was ‘Jews, God and History’ by Max Dimont!”) She learned what made us tick, and she never forgot.

    I was thrilled to join Rose Gilbert’s department when I came to Pali as a new teacher. six years later, she picked out the faculty gift for me when I left to have my first baby, and 14 years after that, when that baby was a freshman, I returned to Pali in the foreign language department. My friendship with Rose flourished the over the course of our professional association. My daughter had her for both AP English courses (Language and Literature), and it made me proud to see how much Mama G admired my offspring.

    I happily worked on the “Rose Remembers” event kicking off Pali’s yearlong 50th anniversary celebration in 2011, and I repeated the task for her retirement party just last March. Both my daughter and I spoke at that event. It was wonderful to proclaim to such a large audience how much Rose meant to us.

    It shouldn’t be shocking to hear that a 95-year-old person has died, but it caught all of us by
    surprise. I guess we had the feeling that Rose would go on forever. I definitely feel that she wasn’t finished yet, and I know I wasn’t finished with her. it was a sad day today at Palisades Charter High School, where a large number of the staff are Rose’s former “bubbies.” There were lots of tears and lots of hugs. Still, all of us know how lucky we are to have been touched by our precious Mama G, and her spirit will inspire and inform our school for many, many more years.

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