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To my old teacher,

South Boston NewsSouth Boston News
Top, Halifax County Senior High student Cindy Gordon, now Cindy Walker. Above, her English teacher in 1982, Becky Ramsey, now Becky Donner. After three decades, the student wrote a thank-note to her former mentor. / May 08, 2014
Teacher Appreciation Week is being celebrated May 5-9 this year.

And Cindy Walker was completely oblivious of this fact.

Yet, by happenstance, Walker chose this week to deliver one of the nicest gifts any teacher could ever receive: a heartfelt letter of thanks, out of nowhere.

Thirty-two years out of nowhere.

The recipient of the letter was her high school English teacher, Becky Donner, Becky Ramsey at the time. In 1982, one of her students was then-Cindy Gordon. “I was the quiet student, the invisible student,” says Cindy Gordon Walker today.

One day in 12th grade English, the class watched a black-and-white TV movie version of “The Scarlet Letter.” As Walker recalls it, Mrs. Ramsey began to weep as the Hawthorne classic took a turn toward the emotional.

Sitting at her desk, the invisible student also let the tears flow.

One has to understand: “I didn’t know there was such a thing as drama,” Gordon explains. “She cried through it, and I cried through it. And that was an opening to the arts that I never knew even existed.”

The young wallflower graduated from high school and went on to enroll at Danville Community College, then later took a store manager job with RiteAid. Eventually she became a benefit specialist for the Department of Social Services. She married, then remarried, this time to a pastor, Tom Walker. Today the couple lives in Concord.

Cindy Walker writes plays for their church, Hebron Baptist in Appomattox. “I’m not a great writer by any means,” but the congregation enjoys her scripts for the annual Christmas play and the hanging of the greens service, and Walker says she enjoys writing them.
“That would never have happened if not for Mrs. Donner.”

So Walker recently decided to type up a letter telling her former teacher what a difference she had made in her life.

“God smiled upon me and I was assigned you as my teacher,” the letter reads.

“I fell in love with drama that year, I fell in love with writing and directing ….

“I wanted you to know, you made a large impact on my life, a large impact on who I am today. You did that by just being the teacher that you are ….

“I grew up hard, and I grew up poor. I am not sure I would have connected with theater if it hadn’t been for you. For I left your class with a passion for something a poor kid could not normally have … a passion for theater,” reads Walker’s letter.

You can probably guess how Donner reacted upon picking the letter out of the mail on Friday.

“Every once in a while, out of the blue, that little special gift comes your way, and it means a lot,” she said.

So, yes: “I cried when I read that letter.”

It is an instant entry in what Donner calls her “Doctor Feelgood” file — created on the advice of a colleague who told her that inevitably there would be times in a teacher’s life when “you’re not feeling good about yourself,” as Donner puts it.

Such moments can come after a crummy day on the job. They can happen when off-days become unpaid work days, with tests sitting around to be graded and no spare time in the classroom to make it happen. When times are blue, Donner recalls her colleague saying, a thank-you note, a token of appreciation, stored in easy reach, can make all the difference in the world.

The Feelgood file became Donner’s collection of thank-you notes, her repository of small kindnesses received over the years. It’s one of the benefits of a profession that otherwise can be somewhat lacking in that department: “The only perk we had as a high school teacher,” she says, “was you got into the football and basketball games for free.”

Nor has retirement lessened the need for an occasional emotional pick-me-up: “The past year in that respect has been a couple of tough blows,” said Donner, ruefully pointing to the School Board’s decision to cancel retiree health insurance and LORP early retirement incentives.

And while Teacher Appreciation Week wasn’t on Walker’s mind when she sat down to write the letter, another milestone occasion was: “I’ll be 50 this year, and sometimes you have to stop and tell [people] how much you appreciate them,” she says.

Three decades ago, as a student in Becky Donner’s class, Walker felt an artistic awakening that would take years to bring to the forefront. Although she yearned to join the drama club productions that her teacher was known for, acting, for her, was out of the question. After school let out, “I went to work every day,” she says.

“My parents didn’t have a whole lot. We had plenty, but not a lot.”

Life since has been kind, and Walker revels in her church experiences (her husband served as pastor of Clover Baptist for eight years before the couple moved to Concord) and creative endeavors. Writing and directing plays, putting herself out in front of the public, “It doesn’t faze me at all. I’m so not like the person I was in high school.

“Think about it, what it’s like to be a quiet person, and see something like that that strikes a passion. And you can’t even participate it. And it never goes away ...”

... all because a teacher first kindled the fire.

“She’s a great lady,” says Walker of her English teacher three decades ago.

She adds: “Teachers today sometimes don’t realize how much they will affect someone’s life.”

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A beautiful and well-deserved tribute to one of my former colleagues.


What a wonderful tribute to a very well-deserving person.

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