Local grown-ups think back on their school years and appreciate teachers who inspired and
Influenced them along the way.
Compiled by Leslie Criss | Photographed by Joe Worthem
“Teachers, I believe, are the most responsible and important members of society because their professional efforts affect the fate of the earth.” — Helen Caldicott
Teachers have influence far beyond the walls of their classrooms. Their lessons, academic and otherwise, have the potential to be carried with their students for life. While school-aged children are often quick to identify their favorite teachers, grown-ups may have to reach farther back in their memories to recall those that left the biggest impression on them. But with a little thought, almost everyone can name one.
Six grown-ups from around northeast Mississippi — each of whom has had a big impact on their community —spoke with us about a teacher they remember as being among the most influential in their lives. We are happy to share their words of praise with our readers.
Evie Storey, Director of Marketing & Special Events for Tupelo Boys and Girls Clubs
My uncle, Roger Cowan Jr., taught two generations of our family the amazing world of advanced sciences. He was my high school chemistry teacher and certainly didn’t allow me to be the “teacher’s pet.” He awarded me the only B average I received in high school and dismissed me from lab for being a bit rowdy. I still can’t balance equations, but because of his example, I am able to better balance the equations of life. A quiet-natured man, he taught his siblings, future in-laws, children and relatives, never making things easy; most would say they were more challenging. Study times at his home included him sitting in a nearby room smiling and offering quiet chuckles as he listened. He was and still is a well-respected educator among his colleagues and former students. Today, he is retired, turning the reigns over to his beautiful daughters who carry his legacy in classrooms each day.
Sam Haskell, Author, Speaker, Philanthropist
I’m fortunate to have had many great teachers in Amory: Mike Justice in eighth grade, Bill Miley in 11th grade and Jeffie Robinson in 12th grade. But perhaps the teacher who taught me the most about life was my fourth-grade teacher, Jane Camp. She’d actually been my mother’s teacher as well. I loved her, but in the spring of 1965, I was horrified when she gave me my very first B, and it was in reading and spelling. When my mother picked me up from school that day, I cried over that B, saying it was unfair and incorrect. I’d saved all my spelling tests and book reports and had made an A on each one. My mother encouraged me to go talk to Mrs. Camp and show her my papers from the previous six weeks. I very timidly entered Mrs. Camp’s school room the next afternoon with all my tests in my book satchel. I told her there might have been a mistake made on my report card in reading and spelling. She looked at her grade book, compared it to my test papers, sighed deeply and told me I was right. She immediately corrected my B to an A. And then we talked for a few minutes about the importance of standing up for yourself when you are right about something, and also being able to admit when you are wrong. I learned so much from Mrs. Camp that day. It was a lesson I’ve honored my whole life. By the way, my first B in school finally came in 10th grade in geometry!
Todd Jordan, Tupelo Mayor
I’ve had many great teachers and coaches, but probably the most influential is Coach Mickey Linder. Coach Linder was a small man in stature, but probably the most intimidating person one would ever meet. He went above and beyond his job as a coach and was a father figure to many kids and young adults who came through the Tupelo Public School District.
When I would get home from Church Street every day in the fall, I would put on my football uniform and walk to Milam to watch practice. Coach Linder and Travis Beard were both longtime coaches at Milam. I guess at some point they got tired of watching me watching them and started integrating me into the practices (on a limited basis, of course). I remember them asking me to go on an overnight game trip to Memphis. I still remember parts of that trip and always appreciated the opportunity to join the team. This was only the beginning of a long relationship with Coach Linder. He later coached me on the basketball team at Milam and then football at Carver.
Coach Linder would pick up kids in the summer and take them to the gym because he wanted to keep the young people out of trouble. Coach had some past health issues I believe had to do with stomach ulcers. One day during summer workouts we were scorching hot, tired and feeling a little down. Well, Coach was fed up with our “sorriness,” a term he used often, and told us the doctors had taken out most of his stomach, but they didn’t take out any of his guts. A bit of motivation at the right time, I guess. We went on to go undefeated that fall. One of many for the Carver Blue Devils. He was one of a kind and a legend in the coaching ranks. But more importantly, he was a man of faith, and that was his proudest accomplishment.
Jill Smith, Director at New Albany's Union County Heritage Museum
Thinking back to my high school days, I recall more than one teacher who stands out, but there is one who was very special to me. She taught me as well as my older brother and sisters. So she was well seasoned and knew our family well. I grew up in the Thaxton community, and the late Mrs. O.O. Hale was the English teacher and librarian at Thaxton High School. She ruled the library with an iron hand. If you were not busy, she would sometimes notice, and she’d bring a book to the desk and say, “Read that and be ready to tell the class about it.”
Robyn Tannehill, Oxford Mayor
It brings a smile to my face to think of my high school guidance counselor Nicki Graham. Mrs. Graham was the most influential educator during my high school years in Florence, Alabama, where I grew up. She was compassionate and no-nonsense. She gave extremely wise counsel on navigating the challenges of high school, finding the right college and obtaining scholarships. More importantly, she always had an open door, an open mind and an open heart. She genuinely loved her students, and we loved her back. Mrs. Graham touched so many young lives, and I am forever grateful for her guidance and friendship as I get older. She passed away in 2020.
Lorenzo Grimes, Assistant Principal at Oxford High School
During my time as a student in the South Panola School District, my most inspirational teacher was my band director, Mr. William McEwen. Mr. McEwen was my band director in grades 6 through 12. He was stern but loving. He held students accountable but admonished with a fatherly compassion. During band he not only taught music, but also applicable life lessons. He expected us to be our best selves at all times. As a student, I felt that he truly cared, and due to his high expectations, I did not want to disappoint him by not being my best self. Mr. McEwen was a role model who carried himself respectfully, and he demanded the same from his students.