In recognition of World Teachers’ Day on October 5th, Legacy.com is honoring educators. Read Legacy.com team member Jessica’s tribute to teachers who made a difference in her life, then visit Legacy.com’s special memorial site for teachers.
Teachers. I’ve had a few. Dozens, in fact. Many I’ve all but forgotten, with a half-remembered name, blurry face or, in one case, a vision of cascading red hair all that remains in my memory. Some I recall vividly, even though they were in my life for a relatively short time a long time ago. A few played crucial roles in shaping what I know, who I am, what I love.
When I was a kid growing up in Birmingham, Alabama, I loved school (for the most part) and loved my teachers (most of them, anyway). Mrs. Strand in pre-school and 2nd grade was one of my favorites – nurturing, calm, firm without being overly stern. Her enthusiastic and joyful music instruction instilled in me a love of classic folk songs that remains with me to this day. I can still hear her clear soprano and cheerful autoharp. My 3rd and 5th grade teacher, Mrs. Dorer, was great too; she was one of a few teachers to ever get me really excited about science. My enthusiasm sparked, I dissected frozen frog after frozen frog for Mrs. Dorer. Poor frogs.
High school was a different story, teachers were a mixed bag, and devotion was rare. As often as not, favorite teachers were the ones who let us get away with things. Still, we knew a good teacher when we saw one. Two history teachers, Mrs. Franklin and Mr. Hames, leap to mind. Mrs. Franklin made history relevant, interesting and cool, and made us laugh and feel good about ourselves. Mr. Hames, on the other hand, yelled, scolded, demanded, drilled art history into our brains (we knew way more about Giotto and Cimabue than any 15 year old should be expected to know) and didn’t let us get away with anything. Two very different teachers, but both effective. Only one, though, was a legend in his own time.
Mr. Hames had been a part of the school since its inception, serving as dean, assistant headmaster, then headmaster while continuing to teach history, art history and English. As an actor and director who was active in Birmingham’s arts scene, Mr. Hames had a flair for the dramatic. He was also known to have a temper and could often be heard in the hallway expressing it – loudly. But the shouting was nothing compared to the quiet, seething anger he reserved for especially heinous offenses. Although terrifying at the time, in retrospect I can say, what a performance. Such emotion! Such range! Bravo!
As notorious as Mr. Hames’ temper was, he was more famous for his knowledge of and passion for history and art. His classes on Renaissance art and European cultural history were not to be missed. While his teaching style was somewhat outdated (he emphasized extensive notetaking and rote memorization), the zeal and depth of knowledge he brought to the subjects he taught were incredible. More than most teachers, he talked. And talked. And talked. And we listened while our pens scrawled furiously and tried to keep up. Though he had notes I think, I don’t recall him using them much. For the most part, he would sit at his desk and talk us through the subject of the day: the delicate beauty of Fra Angelico’s frescoes, the magnificence of Michelangelo, the sad longing of Look Homeward, Angel, or the sexiness of Tom Jones (the novel, not the Welsh singer).
From time to time, he would break from his lecture (“Have I told you about the time…?”) and tell us a juicy story from his acting days: meeting Vivien Leigh in New York; hanging out in L.A. with James and Carly (Taylor and Simon, of course); working on a film version of A Confederacy of Dunces until John Belushi’s untimely death put an end to the project; appearing with Jeff Bridges, Sally Field and a young Arnold Schwarzenegger in Stay Hungry, probably the only feature film ever to be filmed exclusively in Birmingham…
At the end of one of these tales, Mr. Hames would pause dramatically, grin widely and drawl, “But I digress.”
Carl Martin Hames was larger than life and made an enormous impact on the lives of his students. When he died in 2002, it was a tremendous blow to the school and the community. His legacy lives on in the arts facilities and programs named for him and in the generations of students influenced by him.
Mr. Hames does not have a Guest Book on our site, having died before Legacy.com had any newspaper affiliates in Alabama. But if he did, I would certainly sign it and here’s what I would say:
Thank you. We didn’t always see eye to eye. I said the rules were silly, you said the rules were there for a reason. You said Yale, I said Swarthmore. Though I didn’t always share your views, I thank you for sharing your knowledge and zeal with me. You deepened my love and appreciation of art, history and literature. You gave me my first break as an actor when you cast me in the small but juicy role of Mary Boleyn. You ignited and nurtured my passion for theatre. You have enriched my life immeasurably and I will never forget you. Cimabue!
Class of ‘93
For more teacher tributes, please visit our special teachers memorial site.