Now she is semi-retired, but she still edits books and consults with various groups about education, and works with the Friends of the Boca Grande Community Center. She took some time out from a computer malfunction (that neither of us could fix) to speak about her work and her interests.
She said that summer is her favorite time on the island, and that it’s usually just when things have calmed down that some sort of controversy flares up, providing a little bit of entertainment. She’s seen them come and go.
“Last year it was all the debate about the bridge, and I guess now it’s parking on Gilchrist,” she laughs.
She is not one to step willingly into the spotlight, and had a long list of people she thought the readers of the Beacon would be more interested in hearing about.
Rosemary is good humored and well spoken, and it’s just as easy to imagine her in front of a classroom full of students as a boardroom full of directors.
She was born in New Bedford, Mass., which she was quick to point out is the home of the great Melville work “Moby Dick.” Her mother, Fannie, was an educator and though her father, Fred, was not,
Rosemary said she learned much from him and has fond memories of tales from his days as a clam-bake master.
She had three siblings, Jane, Arthur and Eleanor. Jane was also a teacher, making it somewhat a family profession.
When she graduated from high school she had no intention of becoming an educator though she admitted “it was in her blood.” In fact she meant to go into medicine, but, sometime during her sophomore year at Wilson College, she noticed that she was most excited by her English and history courses and changed the focus of her studies to earn her undergraduate degree in history.
But she tried her hand at a few odd jobs before she answered the call to teaching. Perhaps the oddest, she said, was a position transporting and setting up “canned musicals” that had been sold to local Rotary and Kiwanis clubs for fundraisers. She said she stopped at a town near the Canadian border in Minnesota where she was boarded with several teachers who asked her to speak at their school.
“I think that was one of the things that got me kind of thinking about education, and I realized my current job wasn’t going to turn into any great career in the theater,” she laughed.
She went from there to a position with Prudential where she excelled in research, sometimes doing more than was necessary. During that summer she went to visit a former classmate in Cape Cod who’d finished the year as a teacher and suggested Rosemary look into the profession. She did, and taught there for two or three years until taking a job with Ginn and Company, working on teacher editions of text books.
She then returned to teaching near Boston for four years before going back to school, earning a master’s in administration and supervision at Columbia while teaching in the Manhattan area and living in New Jersey.
She took a position afterward as the principal of an elementary school on Cape Cod.
“When I went to visit a friend in Cape Cod I picked up the paper and there was a headline, ‘Local Elementary School Principal Retires,’ so I thought I’d try for it,” she said.
Rosemary was an administrator in Cape Cod for the next seven years, until 1972.
She then accepted a position in Belmont, Mass. as a principal, serving there for 10 years while finishing her Ph.D. in the history and philosophy of education at Boston College.
She retired from her career as an administrator and embarked on another as a consultant, at first developing apprentice training programs for at-risk high school students.
She began her affiliation with dyslexia research and education when she was asked to edit the “Annals of Dyslexia,” a peer reviewed publication for dyslexia research.
She also worked with the International Dyslexia Association (then the Orton Dyslexia Society) as a consultant, which was how she came to Boca Grande.
“Part of my contract was to report at the semi-annual meeting of the board of directors,” she said. In 1990, at one of those meetings, she was offered the chance to buy a T-shirt and raffle ticket as part of an awareness campaign for dyslexia. “They said, ‘If you buy the T-shirt, you can enter a raffle to win a week in a house on the Gulf of Mexico.’ I’d never won anything in my life and I thought ‘This is your biggest client; cough up the $50.’ And I won the week in the house that’s just north of the range light.”
She came with her sister and a few friends, thinking Florida was the last place she’d ever move to.
“By the end of the week I was running around looking at property,” she said.
She became the organization’s executive director shortly after and, though her house was being built, she was still living in Baltimore and telecommuting. When the executive director of the International Dyslexia Association left, she was asked to serve as interim executive director.
“I accepted an offer for six months and ended up being there for five years,” she said. “That was an interesting experience because it involved a tremendous amount of travel,” she said. “I had an opportunity to meet and work with people who were very passionate and committed to helping kids who had language problems. I’d had a lot of experience with that as a teacher and was very sensitive to the insanity of the one-size-fits-all approach to teaching.”
She has also been to Italy, Russia, Latvia and China. Rosemary’s love of travel started after her junior year of college when she traveled by bike around western Europe with some girlfriends. It would be an adventurous trek even now, but much more so then, she said.
“At that time, women generally didn’t travel alone,” she said, “so we were quite a spectacle.”
When she made the permanent move to Boca Grande in the mid-1990s, she dove into her consulting work, mainly with non-profit organizations, conducting searches for heads of schools and organizations and working with various boards as they grappled with governance issues.
She began working with the Gulf Coast Community Foundation, along with about 12 other independent consultants, as a part of their Building Better Boards initiative. After three years she was named Englewood schools consultant for Strategic Grants in Education and became closely involved with five Englewood area schools from 2006 to 2009.
Rosemary also served on the board of directors of the Friends of the Boca Grande Community Center from 2002 to 2009. During that time the Friends and Pierian Springs Academy in Sarasota began working together as part of an effort to provide educational opportunities to the community. Thus the Lifelong Learning Opportunities program was born.
Rosemary has occasionally revisited her first profession and taught some of the courses, one on the history of the English language and another on “Villains, or Victims of Bad Press?” In “Villains ...” she looked at the lives of figures like Genghis Khan, Richard III and Lucretia Borgia to determine if they were accurately portrayed by historians and writers.
Last year she moderated and helped convene an educational forum to speak about education, partially in light of positions taken by the film “Waiting for Superman.” She hopes to repeat the event and narrow its focus.
She said she also hopes to teach a four part course next year as part of the Life Long Learning program on the origin and evolution of the classic detective story.
In the meantime she will continue consulting and working on an editing project she’s wrapping up for Literate Nation, a group dedicated to nationwide literacy across disciplines.
Rosemary hopes that educational curricula will not exclude interest in history and other humanities in the pursuit of science and tech courses. She said history’s lessons are constantly proving invaluable.
Her thesis at Boston College was about a program during the industrial revolution in England wherein a sort of standardized test was being adopted and used to scale teacher pay.
“You can take stuff right out of journals and parliamentary hearings and put them in the mouths of people today,” she said.
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