‘She’s a legend’: English teacher remembered

Published 9:54 pm Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Former students at Booker T. Washington and Suffolk high schools this week are remembering a former English teacher who spent a combined 40 years instructing at the schools.

Maddie Deloise Vann died Saturday after five months of suffering from congestive heart failure, her niece Evelyn Wall said.

Vann, who would have been 90 in August, was a graduate of Virginia State University. Though she never had children of her own, she inspired hundreds of children during her career teaching English, former students said.

Maddie Vann poses for a photo with her great-nephew, Corey Banks. The two both attended Virginia State University.

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“She’s a legend,” said Dr. L.D. Britt, who went to Booker T. Washington High School and later became a surgeon. “I still use what she taught me.”

Booker T. Washington was a high school for black students during the time of segregated education. Britt said all the teachers at the school, Vann included, made sure the students still got a good education.

“We had excellent teachers, and Ms. Vann was an example of that,” Britt said. “They made up in time and commitment what they lacked in material resources.”

Britt has used Vann as an example in his writing for medical journals and said Tuesday that he would dedicate an entire chapter of his memoirs to her — if he ever gets to write them.

Ronald Hart, the president of Metropolitan Baptist Church Credit Union, said most of the students hated to go to her class, because she was so tough.

“An ‘A’ was hard to get from her,” he said. “When you presented a paper to her, it was going to be scrutinized very tightly. She was tough, but she was well-respected.”

Hart said Vann has been a big part of the alumni association of the high school, which provides scholarships to students whose parents graduated from Booker T. Washington.

“It’s hard to imagine her gone, because she was so much of an influence to everyone,” he said.

Former student Pam Jones-Watford said Vann demanded high-quality work and respect.

“To say that you couldn’t do it was not an option,” she said. “She pushed you until you actually performed to the best of your ability.”

Relatives didn’t make out any better in her classes than other students, Wall said. She said she once failed to do her homework because she thought her aunt would go easy on her, but her aunt told her mother and she was punished.

“She was hard on everybody,” Wall said. “She was going to grade hard no matter who you were.”

Corey Banks, Vann’s great-nephew, said his aunt inspired him to attend her alma mater, Virginia State University.

“She was my motivation to excel in school,” he said. “She just had a different appreciation for learning. When you’re around that environment so much, it rubs off on you a little bit.”