I’ll never forget him

My primary school and I share a birthday – we’re both turning 50 next year.

A Facebook page has been set up to help connect people who attended the school, share memories and photos and discuss plans for the celebration.

The other day, a message popped up in the Facebook group from an old schoolmate called Jackie: “Tomorrow I am seeing Larry Coombes’ mother. I stumbled across his mum because I work in home care. I have always wished that I could have found a family member of his so I could tell them how much this beautiful man helped me, influenced me and made me feel incredibly special. And suddenly, quite by chance, I’m in front of the person who would most benefit from hearing this. She thought no one would remember him but I know it’s the opposite. Sooo many remember him and really loved him. So if anyone would like to share something about this beautiful man here, I can show his equally beautiful Mum tomorrow.”

How lovely is that? I got quite teary when I saw it.

Mr Coombes was my year 4 teacher. He was diagnosed with cancer not long afterwards and I remember our shock when he went bald during the chemo treatment – it was something totally beyond our childhood experience.

Sadly, he eventually lost his battle with the disease.

Larry Coombes was one of my best-ever teachers. I have a rotten memory, but I cherish many from that year.

I didn’t have many friends or much confidence in primary school. I was an odd little thing who was teased about her name and hair colour.

But Mr Coombes believed in me … well, except on the basketball court, there was no hope for me there.

I wrote on Jackie’s Facebook post: “He was one of my most loved teachers, who gave me so much confidence as a shy, awkward fourth grader. I’ve never forgotten him calling me “the walking dictionary” and praising my schoolwork. I was incredibly sad for him when he was ill. I can still see his face incredibly clearly and I will never forget him.”

I also remember him telling my classmates that if they ever needed help and he was busy to go and ask me.

I even recall some of the projects he set us, such as writing your own Aboriginal dreaming time tale. I think that was when my love of creative writing was born.

I was bursting with pride when my end-of-year report card had four A+ marks. I think year 4 was my intellectual peak, it was all downhill from there …

So many other people chimed in with their memories of Mr Coombes. I can’t even imagine how it must have felt for his mum to read those recollections of her long lost son.

Here are a few:

“He was never a teacher of mine but I remember those fortunate enough to have him as a teacher always said what a privilege it was. An insightful, thoughtful and compassionate teacher who is as sorely missed today as he was back then. Tell Mrs Coombs her son will never be forgotten.”

“Larry Coombes was my teacher in 1979, 4th class. The best teacher I ever had, a really nice man also. He passed away way too young.”

“He sure was my favourite teacher. Year 5 1976. Times Tables were the priority every morning. A different set each day. At the classroom door every morning with his smile was a great way to start the day.”

“He was the one teacher at Belair who saw beneath my brother Anthony’s behaviour and teach the person underneath! Anthony has never forgotten him and neither has my mother! And just to top it off I ended up with a massive brain tumour as well, so he was a huge inspiration..and I’m now a primary school teacher. Please pass on our love, she must have been a wonderful mother because he was a wonderful man.”

“A true legend! Larry was one of my best ever teachers. He helped to inspire me to be a teacher and a school principal. Respect, my goodness we had respect for Mr C and his trusty friend Stanley who acknowledged both our positive and not so good behaviour choices. If I could have a Larry on my staff I would be an appreciative principal knowing there would be top class teaching and learning in that classroom everyday. RIP Mr C.”

“Give Pat another hug from me. I met her when Larry was at Barrington. I visited him then, which was near the end of his life’s journey. But he still had that infectious smile. A wonderful, funny man, friend & colleague, taken way too soon.”

“Mr Coombes always encouraged you to do your best. In Year 4 in 1977, he really focused on teaching me (and all my class) the basics. Those basic spelling tests and times tables practice, have helped me all my life. Something as a high school teacher, I wished still happened today. He was a great bloke.”

“God bless teachers and the incredible legacy they leave with us all. Almost 40 years later I’m so glad my schoolmate will be able to share that with Larry’s mum.”

Jacki went back onto Facebook last night to tell us how the visit went. And I got teary again.

“Thank you everyone. I met with his Mum today and read every single word to her. She kept saying how much this meant to her. It was really special. I have now made contact with Larry’s son (who is also a school teacher btw) and he has read it all and will be sharing with his Brother and Mum. This will all be printed off and laminated for her . Larry’s son wanted me to thank you all … so THANK YOU.”

She also admitted: “I cried the whole time I was there through the biggest smile ever on my face.”

Jackie, you’re a legend. It was such a kind and thoughtful thing to do … and a reminder that sometimes social media does good.

Song of the day: Cat Stevens “Remember the days at the old school yard”

6 thoughts on “I’ll never forget him

Add yours

  1. What a great teacher he was and one of the reasons I became a teacher myself. Alana I have to say what were you doing putting one of the most hideous photographs of me ever taken up for all to see… lol. What great memories. You must try and come to the 50th anniversary celebrations for both Belair and Kotara HS. You won’t believe it but I’m teaching at Kotara HS now. It’s weird teaching in the rooms I once sat in as a student.

  2. There are many people in your life that make a positive impact and for kids, a great teacher is someone you never forget. There were 34 of us that got to have him as our teacher in 1977. I am thankful I was one of those lucky ones too!

    1. It’s amazing to have so many great memories of school from when we were just 9, I don’t remember much else from that time but Mr Coombes has always remained in my thoughts.

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