My Personal Great Teacher Story
An ode to an inspiring lady
The University of Alabama had Paul "Bear" Bryant.
UCLA had John Wooden.
The Harry Potter saga had Albus Dumbledore.
The Chronicles of Narnia had Aslan.
Garfield High School in East Los Angeles had Jaime Escalante of Stand and Deliver fame.
These were all iconic sages who touched the lives of not only their charges, but everyone who came in contact with them.
The Westside region of Los Angeles, CA had a music teacher who in the views of an infinite number of folks was just as inspiring as coaches Wooden and Bryant, as well as Sr. Escalante, and just as much a sage as Aslan and Dumbledore.
She never won seven consecutive national championships in basketball or defeated any white witches, and there aren't any movies about her, but to the young adolescents of one of the more affluent sections of America's second largest city, Lida Oliver Beasley was their Aslan, their Escalante.
Originally coming from Arkansas, Mrs. Beasley - I refuse to call her Lida, as I would feel uncomfortable with that informality - taught band and orchestra at Santa Monica, CA's (a suburb of Los Angeles) John Adams Junior HIgh School, Santa Monica High School, and Santa Monica College for approximately twenty years spanning from the 1970s through the 1990s, serving as the quintessential guru to thousands of young people, some of them who had natural talent in music, others - like me - not so much.
I had the personal privilege and blessing to have Mrs. Beasley as one of my teachers during my days in high school and my first years in college. As an oftentimes intimidated, humiliated, and overwhelmed first year student in Samohi's (short for Santa Monica High) marching band who didn't see myself as fitting into high school, let alone the band, I remember Mrs. B - that's what I used to call her - walking up to me as I was taking a water break during a rehearsal and saying while patting me on the back, "Derek, you've come a long way since band camp."
That little bit of kindness made a extremely insecure African American teenage boy feel good, that there was someone in that school organization that actually cared about me when no one else in the band did, including, it seemed to me, the director (Mrs. B was the assistant). That was the main factor for my signing up for beginning orchestra to learn how to play the string bass that spring; I signed up because of her.
That experiment, as I call it, didn't work out because I was unable to dedicate myself 100% to the bass and the baritone saxophone, which was my primary instrument. That did not stop me from holding high regard for Mrs. B, however, because I got from her the one lesson that has stuck with me for the 25 years since I was a high school kid: What it takes to be good at something and how to work hard to achieve a goal.
That's the reason I'll always be grateful for that lady.
I guess everybody has a teacher that they remember fondly, that inspired them in a positive way decades after being their student. Lida Beasley was one of those teachers for me and countless other teens in that seaside community. I count myself as one of those countless teens whose lives were influenced by this woman in some way.
As I write this, Mrs. Beasley has passed away after a short bout with cancer that she was diagnosed with only days before. I was shocked and saddened when I heard the news that she was dying, like everyone else who knew and was taught by this music educator; I felt that I had to write this tribute as a result.
I wrote on Facebook.com, where she has a fan page, that Santa Monica and its school district absolutely must hold a citywide memorial service for Mrs. B, like they did for Sr. Escalante at Garfield High earlier this year. I also called for the high school to rename its music building after her: Lida Beasley Hall. I truly feel that town with its famous beach and pier owes that to her for all she has done for the education of its children.
Hopefully that city will do the appropriate thing and make that memorial and building renaming a reality, as it is the least that it can do for this great lady.
Rest in peace, Mrs. Beasley.