Monday, January 14, 2013

Agnes Hicks Coale (1922-2013)

My grandmother, Mom Mom,  passed away last week.  I didn't mention it in my posts because 1) I wanted to save you all the awkward "my sympathies" comments that are nearly compulsory after such an announcement, and 2) I wanted to do a full post.

I will miss my grandmother, but the truth of the matter is that I've missed her for some time.  She had advanced dementia, which made it difficult for her to communicate.  Looking back, it says something about her love for her grandchildren that despite the creeping fog of such a disease, she always seemed to recognize my brother and I when we would visit her (something which I know I came up short on).

Over last week, I tried to do some research on my grandmother to make a pitch to the Baltimore Sun for a full obituary.  As with any other citizen of the 21st Century, I tried to find information on the Internet.  There was nothing.  It soon became apparent that not only are we losing the Greatest Generation, of which my grandmother was a member, but we are also losing the last generation to go without a digital footprint.  While my grandmother will have the opportunity to live on in the memories of her loved ones and her career achievements (we'll get to that in a moment), the rest of us will require teams of archivists to sift through the wheat and chaff of online living.  Facebook, blogs, Amazon,, High School websites, College Websites, workplace websites, club websites...we're splattered everywhere!  My grandmother gets to go out with the elegance of a discrete existence and will probably be one of the last to do so.

If you received any sort of public school education in Baltimore County between 1944 and 1995, there is a significant chance that my grandmother had an impact on what you learned.  Here is what I sent to The Baltimore Sun:

Agnes Coale graduated from Towson State Teachers College in 1944 with a Bachelors of Science in Elementary Education.  She then achieved a Masters of Education in Early Childhood Education from Towson State University in 1970.

From 1944 to 1953, Ms. Coale was an Elementary School teacher at Hamden Elementary.  From 1953-55, she taught at Lydalee Tall Elementary, which was a part of Towson State Teachers College.  From 1964-66, she taught at Ruxton Elementary.  She then taught at Towson Elementary School for five years, followed by one year stints at Stonleigh, Riderwood, and Fullerton.

In 1973, Ms. Coale was promoted to the position of Vice Principal at Sparks Elementary School. The next year, she was assigned to the Vice Principal position at Loch Raven Elementary School, where she served for ten years from 1975 to 1985.  Ms. Coale’s last position in the Baltimore County School system, completing a forty year educational career, was at Rodgers Forge Elementary school.

Beginning in 1984, Ms. Coale worked as an Adjunct Professor at Towson State University in their Elementary Education and Early Childhood Education programs.  In this capacity, she would teach and supervise student teachers in Baltimore County Public Schools.  In 1995, she was hired by UMBC, also as an Adjunct Professor, to supervise student teachers, followed by a three year position at Loyola College of Maryland doing the same.  Ms. Coale concluded her professorial career back at Towson University, before retiring in approximately 2001.

Ms. Coale worked on numerous Baltimore County Committees and Work-Groups on Curriculum Drafting, including a 1974 Handbook entitled “So – You are Getting a Student Teacher” published by the Maryland State Department of Education, Office of Teacher Education.

This all washed over me while writing it, until I sent it to one of my friends in State Government.  He responded: "Went to school at a time when most young women went right into homemaking, and moved seamlessly into upper administration during an era when that was something of a male bastion." 

My grandmother was a trail-blazer.  My little, white-haired, purple-suited grandmother was a trail-blazer.  There are a lot of questions I wished I had asked her, ranging from topics like teacher's unions to the potential benefit of charter schools.  She was a staunch conservative, which, reflectively, probably had some interesting areas of contradiction to explore.  I missed out.

There are innumerable fun facts about Mom Mom.  She almost always wore purple.  Her favorite singer was Glenn Miller, but I think her favorite song was "Achy Breaky Heart" by Billy Ray Cyrus.  Mom Mom went tanning well into her 70's.  She only went to restaurants where she knew the bus boys.  Mom Mom loved Broadway until she saw Rent, after which she approached the entire industry with suspicion and distrust.  She loved Listerine, and encouraged her smelly grandsons to give it a go every once in a while. 

Her favorite line, for me at least, was "Don't contradict your grandmother."  If you know anything about me, you know that this would have been an impossibly difficult pill for me to swallow, even at 8 years of age.

She taught me my first night-time prayer.  "Dear God, please take care of everyone I love and everyone who loves me, especially Mom Mom (and then we filled in the names of everyone else we could think of, including my dogs...these prayers were long)."  In fact, this prayer was the source of a great deal of contemplation for me.  Why both categories?  Are there people that love me that I don't love?  Don't get me wrong, it is appreciated, but also terribly creepy.

After every meal, she would have a slow cup of coffee.  When I say slow, I mean take whatever the amount of time it took to eat your meal, and project out another 50%.  This is a sad memory for me, because it seems apparent that Mom Mom just wanted to spend more time with her grandkids.  Back then, it felt like torture.

Whenever we were at a place with a piano-player, Mom Mom would give my brother and I a dollar to ask him to play our parents' wedding song.  This was probably something that started out cute, but became a little annoying after two toe-head little boys would repeatedly come running back to the dinner table, expecting their parents to get up and dance.

She always asked me if I had a girlfriend, even if I was too young to have one.

It was a blessing to have a grandmother into my thirties.  Up until this point, you don't appreciate the exposure of a 90 year life.  During my last night with my grandmother on Tuesday, I played Glenn Miller's "Moonlight Cocktail" on my iPhone.  It was the top song of 1942, when she would have been 20 years old.

Thanks for hearing me out.

Have a great Monday doing what you love.