Ruth Hunley: A Tribute

rebelI am taking a break from my usual children’s book reviews to write about my mom, Ruth Hunley.  Today’s blog post is dedicated to Monroe High School Graduates.

Senior year at Monroe High School mean football games, pep rallies and Senior English with Mrs. Hunley.  In our small town, we had  heard about her class for years.  She was known to be the toughest teacher in the school.  She was both praised and feared.

It was especially a unique year for me because Ruth Hunley was not only my English teacher but my mother.

It was a different experience walking into her classroom on that September afternoon. I had done a lot of the obligatory moaning and groaning about having my mother for a teacher. Mom taught all college preparatory English classes and not taking college English was never an option. And ultimately I knew I would have felt left out if I wasn’t hanging out at the public library and doing my assignment sheets like everyone else. :

I was pleasantly surprised at how much I liked my mother as a teacher. She was so passionate about teaching English.   Like many adolescents, I hadn’t thought much about my mom’s life except in relation to me. Somehow in the classroom, she didn’t seem like my  mother.  I used to joke that we got along better at school than at home.

I was also surprised at how much I enjoyed her class, the hardest academic class taken to date. She treated us like college students, handing us a syllabus on the first day of class.  Expectations were high and communicated clearly. We did lots of research at the public library, learning to use all kinds of reference books and being exposed to all kinds of literature. She began stirring in me the desire to be a writer.

Almost every graduate of Monroe High School from 1962 to 1992 can recite The Prologue  to The Canterbury Tales in Middle English.  The words look like gibberish but once memorized take up permanent memory in the brain.

She was always big on memory work. It was a common sight to have students lined up utside her classroom or dropping by the house to recite their lines.   Some of my classmates claimed that she had memorized MacBeth, the whole play, because she had taught it for so many years. (“Is this a dagger that I see before me? The handle toward my hand, come let me clutch thee.”)

During my childhood, I sometimes grew tired of hearing about my mother. I knew that she was kind to many people, baking cakes, writing encouraging notes and devoting free time to helping students with their work. It became tiresome because I lived with her and I knew she didn’t walk on water.

Every May as long as I can remember, the phone would start ringing at our house. There was always one and usually several students who were failing senior English. Failure to pass senior English meant not graduating with the class, a major humiliation.

My mother was determined that I would be a reader. And early on, I became a serious bookworm. I frequently got in trouble at school for reading books when I was supposed to be listening to the teacher or doing my math problems. I was not much of a student until after high school. I am sure it would surprise no one that my mom read to me constantly. Even at 11 or 12, she would insist on reading me a chapter of the classics like Anne of Green Gables and Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm.

I eventually became a children’s librarian and a writer. All that research in the library helped provide the groundwork for my future career. The desire to be a writer actually began from writing all those themes in Senior English.

I think she and I were both surprised by our classroom experience. She was a much better teacher than I ever expected. I was a better student for her than I had been for most of my earlier teachers.  She was surprised that her underachieving daughter could write well and enjoy working so hard.

My mom died on Feb 10, 1995. For many years, February was a bleak month. but the last two years have been different. I posted a few pictures of her on Facebook and got an overwhelming response from Monroe High School Graduates, many of them people I didn’t know. How I treasured all those likes and comments! Remembering my mom became something to rejoice about. None of my friends in Greenville, S.C. ever met my mom but I suddenly felt a kinship with all these people from Monroe, North Carolina

It’s nice to know there are other people out there who can recite:

Whan that Aprill with his shoures soote                         

The droghte of March hath perced to the roote,     

And bathed every veyne in swich licour

Of which vertu engendred is the flour,

Whan Zephirus eek with his sweete breeth

Inspired hath in every holt and heeth

The tendre croppes, and the yonge sonne

Hath in the Ram his halve cours yronne,

And smale foweles maken melodye,

That slepen al the nyght with open ye

(so priketh hem Nature in hir corages),

Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages,

And palmeres for to seken straunge strondes,

To ferne halwes, kowthe in sondry londes;

And specially from every shires ende

Of Engelond to Caunterbury they wende,

The hooly blisful martir for to seke,

That hem hath holpen whan that they were seeke.

Note:  I started this blog to write about children and young  adult books.  I publish posts on Tuesdays and Fridays.



42 thoughts on “Ruth Hunley: A Tribute

  1. I never had your mom, but husband Joe Flynn did. I lived on Lancaste Ave. I walk past your house a lot to skip riding the bus all the way around. She would alway say hello.

  2. Loved your mom! Class of ’83..She was one of a kind. I will always remember her love and devotion she had for her students and Those Lines……. When I hear the name “McBeth”, Ms. Hunley automatically comes to my mind. So glad she was a blessing in my life.
    Thank you for your post,
    Tracy Clontz Sizemore ’83

    1. Mrs. Hunley was who I have strived to be like in my own classroom-tough but fair- to the point, but caring-and never afraid to laugh at herself or admit she was wrong. I still remember the quote that hung in her room, “I’d rather have a C student with an A character than an A student with a C character.” She touched many lives and shaped many futures. I am a better person from knowing her.

  3. What a true southern lady Ruth Hunley was! Loved her class even though i was very shy & hated reciting those passages in front of the whole class!! Will never forget the day she died. So many great memories! By the way, my brother, Chuck, was one of those senior boys calling your house in june!!!! I was class of 1973 and Chuck was ’76. Hope all is well with you Lou. Donna Norwood

      1. I remember mrs hunley well, and although I too was very shy, I really did like her. You are probably well liked as she was and will always be. You can feel very good knowing what a great mother you had.

  4. My memory of Mrs. Hunley… I too fell into the line of kids waiting my turn to recite those “weird, no one will care, who says this stuff,” verses from the classics. (Oh how I wish kids studied classics today). The first time I spent my study hall waiting in line at her door, I was a bit disappointed she didn’t stop plucking the keys on her typewriter to give me the attention I thought I deserved. She never looked up. When I missed a word she immediately corrected me. Then I realized she was amazing. She knew her teachings coming and going. Not a dent in her armor. To this day she was the best teacher I ever had. To say she made an impression is an understatement. I majored in English. But I will never be a Ruth Hunley tho it would be an honor.

  5. I had your mother for senior English 1965. She was not only inspirational, she was fun! She’s the reason I went to college. She called me up to her desk and asked me where I was going to college and I said I didn’t know. She said to pick out three and see her tomorrow. I did and that’s how I went to Wingate and UNC-CH.
    After school in ’66 I drove her down to see one of your relatives in SC a couple of times. I think your family had a big 4-dr Ford at that time.
    Your mother was a jewel, a special person
    Eddie Helms
    MHS, class of ’65

  6. Oh,, Lou! How I loved reading this! Hunley and Hilton were the two most feared teachers at MHS! And I was one of those students reciting my final memory work standing in graduation line in my cap and gown. I loved your Mother for so many reasons. She was a good teacher, a friend to my Mom, an advocate for my sister… She made you want to be better than you were. Thank you for sharing your story!

  7. I remeber mrs. Hunley well, and although I too was very shy I really liked her. You are probably well liked just as your mother was and thats a good thing. You can always be assured that you had a great mother who touched so many lives, including mine. Thank you for the peice you wrote anout her.

  8. I was MHS class of 1987. Your mother was a wonderful, wonderful teacher and person. It’s funny—on a long drive this past weekend I listened to the podcast of a comedian I like. She started talking about language, etc. and before too long started to recite the Prologue to the Canterbury Tales—and I remembered every word.

  9. I was in your mother’s class in 1963-64. I, too, was made a better student by her. Her classes were fun, entertaining and beneficial. I’ll never forget her reading of the witches scene from Macbeth. She often complimented me and bragged on my writing abilities. I’m reminded of the boy who said that his teacher thought he was a better student than he was and, strangely, in her class he was. Even after I graduated and began my career she kept up with me. I still have the hand written note she sent me when I became sheriff. I enjoyed visiting with her at the public library when she worked there in retirement. I became a life-long learner, her influence led me to return to Wingate and complete my college degree. I was blessed to have had her in my life. Tennyson was right we are influenced by all we experience.

  10. So nice to read this from you, Lou, and so interesting to understand how your relationship with her (and her relationship with you) changed when you became her student. Your mother changed so many lives, directly or indirectly, in such a positive way that she will be remembered through the ages, much as her subject matter.

  11. Lou, your mother made such an indelible, positive mark on me. She was so understanding when I shared with her that I had anxiety issues about speaking in front of the class. The caring way in which she handled that and the encouraging words she wrote in my senior yearbook about that issue have stuck with me throughout my life. She left us much too soon, but what an impact her life made on so very many. I made it a point to be at her funeral as my way of saying thank you to her, and to you, her family, for having shared her with us all. I minored in English in college and was so well-prepared thanks to your mom. And, yes, to this day, I can recite the entire prologue to The Canterbury Tales. Throughout the years, it has been fun to impress friends at parties by reciting it. I always give credit to your wonderful mom. I hope that your memories of her bring you comfort. How wonderful to hear about you carrying on her legacy in your role as a children’s librarian. All the best to you. – Philip Hargett, Class of 1980

  12. Hi Lou,
    Although I wound up graduating from Camden Military Academy I certainly remember you Mom and you. Like Robin, I made the walk up Lancaster Ave. to board the bus from my previous school Walter Bickett.
    Your Mom’s class had a reputation for being tough but not quite the same reputation as Mrs Hilton! lol

    Nice to read what you’ve written about her.

  13. Great woman ! I have lots of memories from her class ! Senior year she told me I had to make 78 on the final exam or I would be spending another year with her ! I fooled her, made 79 !

  14. So glad I stumbled upon your blog today, Lou! Although at the time I wasn’t so sure, I now know Mrs.Hunley was a great teacher! I loved getting to know your family and have very fond memories of your parents. I hope you are doing well! Thanks for the walk down memory lane!
    Rhonda Welsh Brooks
    Class of 1979

  15. Thank you for keeping her memory alive. She was one of THE best teachers I ever had, even through graduate school. She did, indeed, teach us with the respect and dignity others reserved for their peers. How precious a gift that was for a teenager who knew she was not going to college like her friends. You mother moved through this world with a grace seldom seen anymore. Her memory is blessed as you carry on her legacy.

  16. Your mother was not only my Senior year English teacher in 68-69 but also my Sunday school teacher at Central Methodist. She was a wonderful lady !!!

  17. Mrs. Hunley was my favorite teacher! Not only was she a great teacher, but she was also a fine, sincere and compassionate human being. I love your tribute to her. 🙂

  18. Lou, I just quoted Mrs. Hunley in a text to my sister (classes of ’79 and ’81 respectively) this week! Your Mom will live forever, because she is part of each and every one of us. She was the absolute best — I can only hope that my daughter will have a teacher that comes anywhere close.

  19. I must say Ms Huntley was a teacher heads and shoulders above all. I went through a hard time and begged my mom to drop College English. She came to talk to Ms. Hunley. Surprisingly, my mom had Ms. Hunley for senior English as well. Ms. Hunley told my mom that she would not let me drop senior english. She said that I was capable and would do whatever needed to be done to get me through. And she did. I completed it, made an A, and learned and recited every word of my lines. Having taken Ms. Hunley’s college English made fresh man English a remedial course. I learned more my senior year than my entire two semesters of freshman English. When Ms. Hunley passed, I was devastate. She was a teacher, a motivator, but most importantly a friend. I miss her very much and think of her often.

  20. I, too, was a student in Mrs. Hunley’s class in 1964-1965. She was a wonderful teacher who took us to places we barely knew. And it seemed to be fastest hour of the school day. Her patience was unending and her sense of humor always just under that teacher face. I join all of her students in saying how much she meant to us as a teacher and a mentor. She was the best and we were all very, very lucky to have her as our teacher. Thanks to you, Lou, for
    writing these lovely memories and give us a chance to share in remembering a very special lady.
    Nancy Noles
    MHS Class of 1965

  21. I actually started doing classwork for her class when I was still a Junior. I was the designated “ghost writer” desparate students turned to, when they needed a paper. KJ approached me to help her, so I did the paper, got an A-. Ms. Ruth’s critiques were great, a balanced combination of correction & encouragement. And the encouragements were insightful, she had a keen knack for recognizing budding strengths. I’m a novelist today, because I had her for “2” years.

  22. What a beautifully written tribute to your Mom, and wonderful comments. Mom’s leave a big hole when they pass, I have felt that since my Mom passed. Thank you for visiting my blog so I found yours!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s