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Planting Seeds

Editor's Note: Valentina Gal is Secretary of AEBC's Toronto Chapter. She spends her time doing consulting work, looking for employment, writing a novel and attending continuing education courses at Ryerson University.

When one thinks of passion, one pictures an upstart comedian, loud preacher or aggressive athlete, not a part-time teacher of the blind and deaf-blind. But that was what Mary Randall was for many years. I first met her when I was six years old at the Ontario School for the Blind in Brantford (now the W. Ross Macdonald School), where we were classmates. We also spent many hours together at her family’s home in Guelph. I believe the love and support of Mary’s parents set the groundwork for the compassionate teacher she later became.

Mary attended Western University and considered pursuing speech therapy at one point, but that door didn’t seem to open for her. During her final year at Western, however, she ran into our second-grade teacher, Mrs. Evelyn Chorniak, who had become the Principal of the Junior School at WRMS. “Come and teach at our school,” she encouraged, and then mentored Mary while she tried out the Teacher’s Assistant and Residence Counsellor positions at WRMS. After a year, Mary went back to Western to earn her Teaching Certificate. There, she met Murray Porte, a professor, who had the reputation of a bear. He demanded excellence, and got it. Though she was intimidated by his reputation, she found him to be a mainstay of support. “He helped me work my way through things,” remembers Mary. “We’ll work through it together,” he would say, and together they did.

Mary went on to teach at the W. Ross Macdonald School for 15 years, where she went above and beyond the call of duty. She recalls a time when a deaf-blind student’s sister was going to get married, but his family didn’t know how he could be at the wedding and enjoy it, as he had many challenges. Mary, along with her parents, got dressed up and went with him to help him be part of his sister’s big day, and not be an extra concern for his family. Mary also worked for a time at the Saskatchewan School for the Deaf, “for a change of pace,” she says. When Mary and her husband settled down in London, Ontario, where they raised a family, she taught part-time at the Catholic School Board for 17 years. Today, her students still come to visit regularly. They enjoy her company and support. She reads the writings of one and encourages them in their university endeavours.

Mary reminds me of the wonderful teachers I had, the loving ones who are interested in what you do. “It’s like planting seeds,” she says. “You plant them and hope for the best.” But Mary never just plants them. She goes back, waters and tends them, and even props them up as they grow. It’s a joy to be with Mary and her former students, as they look back on the long and successful road that they have travelled together.