The Last Last Word… Leona Lee
The words of one’s days are counted on the scroll, woven together with golden threads where the Lord wove the pathways into a fabulous tapestry. As a child, this special friend was woven into my life and her joy touched me before I was her student. The connection was made.
It is my belief that this woman was placed in this school at this time for God’s purpose.
An encourager, one who introduced her students to many spheres beyond our limited expectations, and set us apart with great works of literature. She was always going before us to make opportunities where we knew none existed. She made learning fun and productive, and gave us a hunger for more thoughts that would stretch our imaginations and our joy in doing all things well.
Fascinated and captivated, we sat in rapt attention, as she would read with great drama. Her joy in pouring out her love for the language was not lost on her students; some of whom would become lasting friends for many decades.
Then I only knew of her love for us. I knew the way she made us feel about ourselves and about life that loomed before us; I knew the excitement of those vibrant classrooms and the anticipation for what she would show us through the year. Now, in looking back, I see more deeply into her interaction with each student. She had the gift of seeing into our personalities and weighing our gifts and then inspiring us through creating openings for the use of these gifts to further develop for use later in life. Through the years she remembered these hopes she had for us through what she observed shining through our personalities, and she would continue encouraging, remembering, longing to hear how we were progressing through life.
Through later conversations I began to see a pattern in her questions to me as we talked. And through the moments that she remembered, I see how she used those moments as teaching opportunities, always teaching, encouraging, delighting with me in seeing how God had taken those gifts and had begun to use them for something beyond myself.
Unknown to us then was a monumental moment in which her destiny was set; her gifts were sparked into life in her consciousness. As you may read below, her sister wrote a bit of history of her life, and we learn that when she first started to school and had this soft-spoken teacher, she decided then and there that she would one day become a teacher. And that she did!
Through the years many of her former students stayed in touch with Mrs. Lee, and she in turn delighted in keeping up with them and treasured hearing of their lives in through the passing years. In the late seventies she and her husband moved to Texas, and my family and I moved to a different address. Somehow she and I lost track of each other for a number of years. I tried to find her on the internet without success. In the mean time I had begun writing poetry and longed to share it with her but had given up on finding her. She did not give up on me however, and through the detective work of another former student we were reunited with great joy and gifted with a few more years with which to talk and write and remember special times.
We delighted in the opportunity to see her when she and her sister were able to fly to Bentonville to attend a Gravette High School reunion. It was a great surprise and a joy to so many of us. She was still totally alert and full of excitement in re-uniting with so many former students.
Just a few months ago we received word that her time was nearing the end here on earth, and we were invited to write our thoughts of her and how she had influenced our lives, and to email or mail them to Texas to be read to her. I trust that she received many such notes. I will add a few of my thoughts, but at this point I would like to comment on this experience. Leona Lee was very much content in her soul, and looking forward to seeing Jesus. So in this aspect of writing to her, I was given freedom to share in her joy in what was to come… freedom to write and share memories with her while at the same time celebrating with her the victorious finish of the race for her. Tears, yes. Joy, yes. But she let us know that all was well with her soul. What a beautiful finale to this life.
In a very profound statement, Jimm Hendren spoke in simple elegance: “she taught us how to live with grace, and she showed us how to die with grace.” Isn’t that a beautiful legacy?
A few days later, her sister Billie sent us a copy of a hand written letter to loved family and friends that Mrs. Lee had written some time earlier. I will not go into the whole of the letter, but share just a bit of the essence of her thinking: She asked that there not be a service because she said, she would not be there, in that container of ashes. She was confident that God would welcome her home. She also spoke of the beautiful life here, and the wonderful place the Lord had prepared for our sojourn here in this phase of life. She loved all of us.
We thought we had been given opportunity to speak our last words to her… that they would be read to her even if she were unable to communicate a response to us. So, indeed, through this letter she had written for safekeeping, she got the last, last word! And we are glad! This is a legacy punctuated with long living words of love.
Mrs. Lee’s sister Billie Bain had written out a nice article about the life of Leona Lee, and I have added it here for those of you who might like more of her life story.
LEONA ANITA SLAUGHTER LEE, WAS BORNJUNE 25, 1913 IN BEAUKISS, TEXAS. SHE WAS THE ELDEST CHILD OF WILLIAMAND CORA SLAUGHTER. SHE DIDN’T GET TO START SCHOOL UNTIL SHE WAS 7 YEARS OLD AND SHE WALKED ABOUT TWO MILES TO ATTEND CLASS IN A TWO ROOM SCHOOL HOUSE. A BIG ROOM FOR THE BIG KIDS AND A LITTLEROOM FOR THE LITTLE KIDS. WHEN SHE WAS A LITTLE OLDER THEY HAD MOVED TO ANOTHER COUNTY AND SHE RODE A HORSE TO SCHOOL.
THE FIRST YEAR SHE ATTENDED SCHOOL AND LISTENED TO A PRETTY, SOFT SPOKEN LADY CALLED ‘TEACHER” SHE KNEW SHE WAS GOING TO BE A TEACHER. THAT YEAR SHE BECAME A PLAY TEACHER, USING HER SIBLINGS AS HER STUDENTS. AT THE AGE OF NINETEEN WITH TWO YEARS OF COLLEGE
BEHIND HER SHE STARTED AS A REAL TEACHER IN A FIRST GRADE CLASS ROOM. TWO DEGREES AND 43 YEARS LATER SHE HAD TAUGHT EVERY GRADE LEVEL AND MOST SUBJECTS. THE MAJORITY OF HER TEACHING YEARS WERE IN HIGH SCHOOL CLASS ROOMS WHERE ENGLISH, LITERATURE AND DRAMA
WERE HER FORTE.
DURING WW~II SHE WAS PRINCIPAL OF THE ELEMENTARY SCHOOL IN MENTONE, TEXAS. SHE ALSO DROVE A SCHOOL BUS OF HIGH SCHOOL STUDENTS TO PECOS, TAUGHT SCHOOL ALL DAY, THEN BACK TO MENTONE TO TAKE CARE OF HER DUTIES AS PRINCIPAL..
OVER THE YEARS SHE HAS RECEIVED HUNDREDS OF LETTERS, PHONE CALLS AND VISITS FROM EX-STUDENTS. SHE TAUGHT IN TEXAS, ARKANSAS AND ARIZONA BUT HER EX-STUDENTS ALWAYS FOUND HER. HER HUSBAND PASSED AWAY IN 2006 AT THE AGE OF 93 AND ONE OF HER STUDENTS HAD THE
OBITUARY PUBLISHED IN THE PAPER IN GRAVETTE, ARKANSAS WHERE SHE HAD TAUGHT.. IT INITIATED A FLOOD OF LETTERS, SYMPATHY CARDS AND PHONE CALLS FROM STUDENTS OF 50 YEARS AND MORE AGO. THEY ALL THANKED HER FOR WHAT THEY LEARNED FROM HER AND TOLD HER THEY LOVED HER..SHE HAS MANY STORIES TO TELL ABOUT STUDENTS AND CLASSROOMS AND MOST OF HER FAMILY HAS HEARD ENOUGH TO KNOW THAT SHE WAS A TEACHER THAT TAUGHT HER STUDENTS BUT HAD FUN WITH THEM ALSO. SHE COACHED MANY PLAYS AND PROGRAMS OF EVERY KIND AND DESCRIPTION AND LOVED EVERY MINUTE OF IT. LEONA AND EDDIE DID NOT HAVE CHILDREN OF THEIR OWN BUT SHE
FEELS LIKE SHE HAD MORE THAN ANY SET OF PARENTS EVER HAD. SHE HAD 43 YEARS OF STUDENTS AND SO MANY OF THEM HAVE REMAINED AS CLOSE TO HER AS MOST SONS AND DAUGHTERS REMAIN CLOSE TO THEIR PARENTS.