Page two of that day’s Gadsden Times had a picture of F. Lee Bailey and colleagues for an article on the upcoming ruling on Patty Hearst’s mental competence. I was just over ten years old on this day and remember those tumultuous times, my primary concern being the frequent interruptions of Hawaii Five-O and other important cultural events for another CBS News Special Report.
Page one was dominated by state and local issues, and included an article on a local Spanish teacher, Dora Gene Hill, who was representing the state of Alabama in a national teacher of the year contest. The article went on to describe the many accomplishments of Mrs. Hill and her students from the time she became the first high school Russian teacher in Alabama back in 1960.
Mrs. Hill, always referred to as “Dora Gene” by a friend (as long as she was out of earshot), was my Latin I teacher in my senior year of high school some seven years after this article was published. That was a rather late point to start Latin, but I was assured that it would be a great experience. And it was! She was a ball of energy, moving around the room constantly, speaking very quickly, and magically imparting a great deal of knowledge. A number of us from that class have medals from the National Latin Exam to prove it.
A rather unfortunate memory of Mrs. Hill was the look she gave a friend and me as we returned to the Civic Center Sheraton in downtown Birmingham with ill-gotten pizza. We were with a school group at the state Latin convention, and against the rules laid down by Mrs. Hill we left the hotel to bring back food for our group. Aside from the stupidity of leaving the hotel, we did not understand the distinction between 11th Avenue North and 11th Avenue South and suffered more than sufficient trials and tribulations even before being caught red-handed back at the hotel.
I found out from my high school band Facebook group that Mrs. Hill died yesterday. The obituary I read had no mention of family or accomplishments, but I know she is survived by thousands of students over decades of devoted teaching, and among the most important lessons learned by those students was the meaning of excellence and devotion, seen all too rarely at the level practiced by Mrs. Hill.