My kid sister is retiring after over thirty years as an Educator in Henrico County. I say “kid sister” when she’s actually two years older than I am, but being the youngest child grants me such prerogatives. In our family there was Donnie and Linda, the older two kids, then a six year gap before Paula and I came along, so it was always “us” and “them.” So when one of “us” retires, I can’t let it pass without comment.
Paula has always been the one I followed in school. My teachers would stare at me after the first week of class each year with a puzzled expression that comes over people when they think that something can’t possibly be true. They would finally manage to ask, “Um, you couldn’t possibly be Paula’s brother, could you?”
So, my entire school life consisted of being a disappointment to a long list of teachers who were hoping for another Paula. What they were hoping for was a student with bright intelligence, a Puritan work ethic, a keen grasp of the concept of decorum and discipline, and at least the ability to stay in their seat. With me they got the anti-Paula.
There was never a question growing up as to what my sister would become. She was teacher material from the beginning. But it also didn’t surprise me that she would end up teaching in the Talented and Gifted program. Her imagination and ability to never be boring made the TAG program a perfect fit. She ran roughshod over boredom. Her take no prisoners mock trials were the stuff of legend at Byrd Middle School. Let’s just say that if the Supreme Court would have allowed Paula’s 7th graders to argue the case, we never would have been saddled with Roe v. Wade.
I’ll never forget the first time she asked me to come in to speak to her class. I say “never forget” in a purely generalized way since I can’t actually remember what I talked about. The thing I do remember was watching my sister in front of a room full of smarty-pants, over-achieving, West End children of privilege, in complete command. Those kids were eating out of her hand. She was large and in charge, and I was made to feel like a rock star simple because I was Ms. Dunnevant’s brother…whooooa!
After nearly thirty years of educating Henrico County’s finest within an inch of their lives, she was recruited into the fund-raising spider web of the Henrico Education Foundation, proving that she could have done anything she wished with her life. She was just as comfortable bossing around CEO’s in their boardrooms as she was with the kids in the classroom. She was never intimidated, she was the intimidator. No matter where Paula worked her real job title should have been Secretary of Getting Stuff Done. Or maybe, Secretary General of Get Out of My Way, I’m Busy Not Taking Shortcuts.
In short, Henrico will greatly miss her imagination, intelligence, creativity, work ethic, and discipline. Not to mention her world class sitting skills.