Obituary: Marion Sharpe; former pupil went on to become school legend
Born: 22 November, 1922, in Sanquhar. Died: 17 May, 2012, in Ayr, aged 89.
CUMNOCK Academicals and former teachers at the school turned out in great number at Masonhill Crematorium to pay a final tribute to a school legend – Mrs Marion Sharpe, or “Wee Maisie Bryan” as she was better known to some three generations of pupils at the Ayrshire school.
Maisie spent more than half of her 89 years at Cumnock, as pupil, teacher, member of the management team but most of all as an inspiration. As you travelled to Cumnock from your outlying village on your first day, older pupils would warn you: “Look out for Wee Maisie – she’s a horror”, but, particularly if you showed a love of and aptitude for English, she became an inspiring teacher, whom one came to love.
As a young girl, taken from her birthplace in Sanquhar to Detroit, Michigan, by her parents George and Minnie, Maisie was, apparently, something of a chatterbox – to the extent that one American teacher Scotch-taped her mouth closed in class. Later, as a teacher, Maisie could silence the rowdiest class of future miners and factory girls with one withering look. If necessary, drawing her self up to her full 4ft 11in in her high heels, she could get through to even the thickest 6ft rugby player by sheer force of personality.
The Bryans’ American adventure turned sour during the Great Depression; the family returned to Scotland, to Auchinleck. Maisie and her younger twin siblings, Bob and Effie, went to Auchinleck Primary and, on passing the “qualifying” examination, to Cumnock Academy.
Here, Maisie’s love of books and the English language was encouraged and given free rein. She placed sixth in the 1940 Glasgow University Bursary Competition, then, after an exciting trip to London at the height of the Blitz, where she successfully gained a scholarship, went to Gilmorehill to study English, emerging with an MA honours degree and a B.Ed degree. It was then on to Jordanhill College, before returning to Cumnock Academy, as an English teacher.
Maisie spent her entire teaching career at her old school. With her piercing eyes and her 1,000-yard glare, which bored through all but the very-thickest skull, she taught the basics of their native language to some not-always-appreciative pupils. Those who shared her love of the language, however, found her inspiring, supportive and encouraging. She had a particularly good record in turning iffy prelim results into Higher passes.
In 1962, with the retirement of her mentor, Peggy Cairns, she was promoted to “Lady Adviser” in the school’s management team – in effect, she was in charge of the female pupils. Ultra-short skirts were sure to bring down the considerable wrath of Maisie on the wearer, but, she was a sympathetic listener to those with problems, while doing all in her power to see her girls make something of themselves.
Maisie seemed to be headed for a life of spinsterhood, then, in 1972, to the amazement of all who knew her, she married David Sharpe, a chartered surveyor from Glasgow. They settled in Coylton and were to spend almost 20 happy years together.
David was a gifted violinist and their shared love of music brought them together. They were enthusiastic members of Cumnock Music Club and great concert-goers. During her teaching career, Maisie had often been at her best during the summer excursions to Europe, ran by school “travel agent” Ivie McCaig, the head of Latin, and, in retirement, she and David travelled widely. She continued to enjoy life, even following widowhood in 1991, and after younger sister Effie’s early death, she kept an eye on wee brother Bob.
They don’t make teachers like Maisie any more – in fact, they broke the mould after her. She was stern and thorough when necessary, but she had her lighter moments and her encouragement of those with even the merest talent for English was total. She will be missed.
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Sunday 19 May 2013
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