I am sad.
This morning Dr. Dahlia Repole died.
Quite appropriately, much will be written about Mrs. Repole’s accomplishments. She worked long and hard on education issues in Jamaica. I’ll leave it to those better suited to write those comprehensive reflections on her life and work. I am glad, though, that before she passed away, she was feted and recognized, that those accomplishments were acknowledged and celebrated. It is not surprising that when she was diagnosed with cancer that she used it as an opportunity to educate others about the illness. Anika, my love and prayers are with you.
She was an exemplary principal of St. Andrew High School for Girls. When she left I recall the noticeable vacuum of leadership. This is not to say that she school fell into or remains in disarray. St. Andrew still had many good administrators and teachers (still does) but none quite with Mrs. Repole’s touch; her compassion and strength, the ability to be in charge, to command respect not fear, to inspire. She was well-suited for leadership. Hindsight. As young girls on the cusp of womanhood many of us didn’t always understand her actions and at times many unkind things were said. Maybe it was the bubbling hormones or typical youthful hubris rooted in the belief that only we know what’s right. Sometimes I considered her gruff but, in fact, she was simply frank. She was not unkind. She truly wanted the young girls at St. Andrew to become confident, accomplished young ladies. When Mrs. Repole left St. Andrew, it was then that many of us understood how important her leadership had been; we missed it. Acutely. Her new school was considered lucky. There was, simply, no one like her.
Shar reminds me of a dignified dressing down we got during morning assembly when she discovered that someone had defaced the podium. I remember how she eloquently explained the root of the most cherished of Jamaican “badwords” – bloodclaat – and suggested that as young women we should think carefully about our words, how we use them, and their connection to us.
But my most vivid recollection of her is this: once I was sitting in an area near one of the campus’ front entrances; someone else was there but I don’t recall who. It was early in my high school life, I think first form. It was late evening and I was waiting to be picked up after my mother finished work. There was a function being held on campus, I don’t recall what. Mrs. Repole whizzed back through the gates to attend but halted just before me and the other student, wound down her car window and told us to pick up some nearby litter, didn’t we see it right there before us? I was caught between shock – Mrs. Repole spoke directly to me – and annoyance – Why do I have to get up and pick up the litter? Isn’t there someone else to do that. And I didn’t put it there so why did I have to pick it up? So I didn’t move immediately and I stared wondering just who did she think she was talking to. Ha. O, dumb youth though thankfully not so dumb as to say what I was thinking. Mrs. Repole stared back; she was annoyed and that registered in my mind as bad. I found my body propelling itself quickly to pick up that litter and to dispose of it properly.
She was imposing and she was right to be annoyed.
That single encounter taught me many things, things that imprinted on my mind and helped to shape my life…sometimes subconsciously: act on what’s before you, don’t wait to be told; if there’s something wrong or amiss then address it; respect authority, learn how to challenge it better (this lesson I still struggle with…surprise). That one, short encounter cracked my armor of elitism and snobbishness. (I have also perfected my own glare meant to compel action; my nephews and younger sister can attest.)
Mrs. Repole – that’s how I knew her, before her doctorate – took no guff. She was a strong woman whose leadership commanded respect. Her confidence inspired confidence. Her work and accomplishment inspire following your own passions and being excellent. As many have now commented upon learning of her passing, she lived a Life More Abundant. For that I am grateful. Her legacy is strong and it lives now, partly, with thousands of young women who knew her, were influenced by her, were led by her. I hope that we grasp how important a gift this legacy is, how lucky we were. And I hope that we act in a way that honors that legacy.