Some of the most influential people in my life have been teachers: school teachers, Church teachers, and natural teachers—people who teach naturally by the everyday example they set in their homes or in other settings. I have a high regard for teachers, and especially for one lady whose teaching and nurturing skills extended far beyond the classroom. Her rich, full, and single life was an example for many.
In our home, we were taught to value teachers and to be respectful. Generally, I managed that, though I smile to myself now and then when something reminds me of a principal who didn’t like us to use the school slopes for our sleigh-riding and skiing after school and on Saturdays in the wintertime. I remember defending myself so resolutely that I was invited to bring my mother to talk it over with the principal the next day!
In the fifth grade in the Washington School in Salt Lake City, I had a teacher named Carol Bird. She was a special teacher. When I graduated from fifth grade, I didn’t graduate from Miss Bird’s interest and affection. Indeed, all the way through junior high school, high school, and a university or two, she stayed in touch with me, sending me occasional clippings or news items that concerned me.
When I went on a mission, she was at my farewell program. When I went away to war, she was in touch with me, praising and encouraging me and telling me she would be praying for me. Later on in life when I celebrated some small accomplishment, Miss Bird always seemed to know it and to send a note of affection and congratulations.
One early spring evening I was walking home from my office in Salt Lake City when I saw ahead of me the slightly bent form of an older lady, carefully picking her way over the uneven, broken sidewalk. It was my teacher Carol Bird.
Some distance behind her, I sang out her name, not wanting to frighten her as I came upon her, walking more swiftly than she. I quietly took her elbow and paused to talk with her a moment. We discussed the “good old times” in my boyhood and some of the other events that had passed. Then she took both of my hands in hers, looked me full in the face, and said, “Now Marion, I want you not to forget your date with me.”
I had never really felt comfortable calling her Carol, so I said, “Miss Bird, dear friend, if I am any place on this earth from which I can return to keep my promise to you, I will come. Don’t worry. If I am myself alive and able, I will come.” She then told me what she would like me to say at her funeral service, and I agreed, telling her I would remember and giving her a hug before going on my way.
Only a few days later, I received a call from Carol Bird’s sister in California. She told me that Carol had been visiting her and had passed away, leaving instructions for her memorial services. Her student and her friend, Marion D. Hanks, was to speak and knew what she would like to have said.
At that funeral, I was privileged to express my appreciation and love for a great teacher and a great human being who had blessed my life, and many other lives, through her teaching, her friendship, and her continuing interest in “her children.” I offered the tribute and assurance that was in my heart and said for Miss Bird what she wanted understood at that important hour.
Carol Bird had told me that she was anxious that people know what a rich and full life she had been privileged to live. She had not, she said, enjoyed that one great blessing which she had desired and prayed for: the blessing of becoming a wife and mother. It had not happened in this world. But, Miss Bird said in her sweet and gracious way, she was sure that in the eternal worlds her Heavenly Father would bless her with that opportunity.
Without children of her own, then, Carol Bird had cultivated the friendship of many children. She had loved us, she said, as if we were her own: she had sorrowed in our afflictions, had rejoiced in our blessings, and had been proud of us—she had told us so whenever we did something worthwhile in service for God, for others, or for our country.
Carol Bird’s life was full to overflowing. She refused to permit anything to obscure, drown, or otherwise impede her enjoyment of the blessings she did enjoy. She had been a contributing member of the Church, of her neighborhood and community, and of her generation. She had been a teacher.
Carol Bird had belonged to a loving family and had many warm friendships. She had developed her mind through books, music, and every worthwhile form of beauty. Attending universities and traveling, she considered herself particularly privileged. Blessings she desired and had not received would, she knew, in God’s good time be available to her in their fulness. She looked forward to that glad future.
I love the Carol Birds of this world. I rejoice that my life has been blessed by many of them who took an interest in the life of a freckled-faced little boy living with his mother in a small adobe house near the railroad tracks years ago.