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Commentary: Iris Cleola Stubbs - A Turks and Caicos Islands stalwart in education
Published on August 1, 2017 Email To Friend    Print Version

By Dr Carlton Mills

Early Life

South Caicos has produced several individuals, who dedicated their lives to service – particularly in the field of education. One of these individuals was the late Iris Cleola Lightbourne (affectionately known as Tita). She was born on 8th March 1925. Unfortunately for her, due to her father’s death when she was only one year old, Iris was raised by her young mother, Maria Lightbourne.

Dr Carlton Mills received his early education in South Caicos. He pursued studies at Excelsior Community College, University of the West Indies, University of London, University of Bristol and his doctorate in Education at the University of Sheffield.
Dr Mills taught in the school system in the Turks and Caicos Islands for a number of years. He was also Principal of three high schools on the islands and Vice Principal of the Turks and Caicos Islands Community College from September 1997 – February 2007. He was appointed Minister of Education from 2007 – 2009. He is the main editor of The History of the Turks and Caicos Islands.
Iris described her mother as a disciplinarian. She kept a watchful eye on her daughter. This was a common practice among mothers at the time throughout the islands and more so for Iris’ mother who was a single parent. She taught her daughter positive work ethics that resonated with her throughout her life.

While growing up in South Caicos, Iris described herself as being a very shy young lady. While walking on the street, if she encountered an adult, she would usually run and hide. Because she was shy, she usually played alone. She loved to look at catalogues and fashion books (as they were called at that time) imagining herself being dressed like the models that she saw in the catalogues.

She also engaged in playing doll house and cooking “sand dirt”. This activity by many of the girls at the time was preparation for adult life. They imitated what they saw their mothers doing in the kitchen by cooking in the dirt. The culture at the time promoted the idea that a woman’s job was to cook and perform other domestic related duties.

Life for the young Iris in South Caicos was not easy. She recalled that her life was not a bed of roses. Like most of the children of the day, she had to fetch wood to cook with and water from the local well to wash their clothes. She also had to fetch water from the government public tank for drinking. Only the more fortunate families could afford a tank in their yards at the time.

On Sunday mornings, she recalled having to go to East Bay (a famous beach area) to collect sand from the beach, which her mother used to spread along the front door of the house and over the kitchen floor as a means of beautification. At Christmas time, she had to go by the Salina to collect mud, which was put at the front of the door to further beautify the house. This was a very special time in the lives of the children of the day – an occasion that they looked forward to.

Iris would be one of the first to admit that while growing up, she was no ‘saint’. She recalled that she had what she described as her “wicked” ways. Her mother had a small business where she sold kerosene oil. When payments were made (which were mainly in coins), her mother had a canister where she stored her money. Iris recalled at times reaching into the canister and taking out coins to buy sweets from Mr Ewing’s store without her mother having any knowledge of what she had done.

Attendance at Sunday School and church for Iris was mandatory. Regardless of how she felt, she had to go. She probably did not realize at the time that this was preparation for a special ministry in her future life.

School Life

Iris’ school life started at an early age. At the age of four years, her mother sent her to what was called the Juvenile School which was run by Mrs Mary Saunders. Iris admitted that she gained wide exposure as a result of this early start. With the opportunity to interact with other children, the shyness that plagued her life began to gradually diminished.

At the age of six years, she entered the Government Primary School under the tutelage of the well-known educational figure Mr C.D. Powell. Mr Powell discovered from early that she could sing well. As a result, he would often call her to the front of the class to sing the “Grace”. He would then commend her and would usually say to the student body; “This little girl can sing the Grace alone and you big children cannot sing it properly”.

Iris also recalled that during her time at school, there was only the head teacher supported by his assistant. She also said that when a child misbehaved, the head teacher would at times punish the entire class. This was usually the strategy to discourage that type of behaviour.

Because of her academic ability, Iris was placed in the top stream in the class. It was a very competitive class. They had to work extremely hard. In order to maintain their positions in such a competitive class, their retention ability had to be good because they only had a slate on which they had to write everything. They had no means of recording anything to refer to when they get home. They relied solely on memory.

School began at 10:00am with a lunch break at 1:00pm. They returned at 2:00pm and were dismissed at 4:00pm. The focus was on the Three Rs – reading, writing and arithmetic. What was not completed during the morning sessions had to be completed during the evening sessions. She enjoyed when it came to spelling – she loved to spell. This was another activity that helped to boost her self-confidence and prepared her for the life ahead.

Sadly, Mr Powell died two years after Iris started school. He was a head teacher that she had a great admiration for, primarily because of his attitude towards her in helping to transform her from a shy little girl, to a young lady who developed a strong sense of self-worth.

Teenage Years

Iris, like the young ladies of the day, engaged in activities such as playing the popular game ‘rounders’ every Thursday afternoon. This was a team game that encouraged communications and coordination. This activity also helped her to interact more with people. They all looked forward to Thursday afternoons. On public holidays, they would have team competitions followed by a banquet. This was a major form of entertainment for the young ladies.

Iris also love skipping, egg and spoon, sack race and needle and thread races. She was very good at sports and usually placed in the top two. She loved to win. She was not only competitive in the classroom but also in sports. She also enjoyed riding her bicycle which she named the Hercules – signifying her strength and desire to win.

Married Life

At the age of 18, Iris married Mr Norman Saunders (Sr.). This marriage produced three children namely: Norman (Jr.), Bert and one daughter, Susan.

Norman (Jr.) became actively involved in politics at a very young age in 1967. He played a key role in the formation of the Progressive National Party in 1976 and the formation of the 1976 Constitution. In 1980, he led his party to victory and again in 1984. He basically retained his seat until he retired from active politics in 2016 with a career spanning almost 50 years.

After ten years of marriage to Mr Saunders, he died. Following his death, Iris married Mr Dikie Stubbs. This matrimony produced four children namely: Ruth who is deceased, Annie, Dannie and Richard (affectionately known as Dickie).

Teaching Career

Mrs Stubbs began her illustrious teaching career at the young age of 14 years. This was immediately after she completed Grade 6 which was the last grade of Primary School. Following completion of primary school, there was little left for a young lady to do, particularly as it relates to advancing oneself academically in the islands. The only high school at the time was located on Grand Turk. Only parents who had the means could afford to send their children to Grand Turk for the five-year duration.

Like her colleague Mrs Marjorie Basden, they started as pupil teachers. Iris was selected because the head teacher felt that she possessed the ability and quality of a promising teacher. She earned two shillings and sixpence (half a crown) a month. From her first salary, she recalled that she bought two new dresses.

Iris’ teaching career was not without challenges. She remembers teaching up to 60 students in a class, all crammed together under a roof that leaked when it rained. Many days she had to mop the floor several times in order to have classes.

Mrs Stubbs was an outstanding teacher. Despite not having the opportunity to pursue formal training at the time, she used the resources at her disposal to produce some of the top students in the Turks and Caicos Islands. She was a disciplinarian who never spared the rod when a child failed to do his/her work. Despite this, she was loving and kind to her students. They understood her and what she stood for. She would quickly reprimand a child if she felt that he was going astray. She was a counsellor and a guide.

The salary to her was not an issue. She wanted to see her students succeed. She had a passion for what she did. She was always on time and was usually the last to leave the school. She impressed upon her students the need to be obedient, respectful, honest and humble. If a child was slow to grasp a concept, she would retain him/her after school and made sure he/she eventually understood the concept even if it meant staying with the child for several afternoons. She practiced the concept of “no child left behind” even before it came into existence.

Her teaching was not only at the school level. She was also a Sunday School teacher, church treasurer, secretary and a lay reader in her church. One can only imagine how a once shy girl who hid when she saw people, could emerge into becoming one of the best teachers of her day and an outstanding leader in her church and her community. She retired from teaching in July 1980 at the age of 55 years as was customary in the government service.

Mrs Stubbs was also a community activist. She was a member of the popular Women’s Group in South Caicos, the Soroptimist International. With her involvement, this group spearheaded many needed projects on the island. One in particular was the construction of the morgue.

Mrs Stubbs was a very humble woman, a reflection of her humble beginnings. She was a strait forward person, one who did not hesitate to tell you exactly how she felt. You knew where you stood with her. If a child was misbehaving in the street, regardless of whose child it was, she would discipline him/her on the spot then make a formal report to the parents. Her caring and loving personality resulted in her being able to jump start the careers of many young people of South Caicos. She will ultimately go down in history as being one of South Caicos’ most outstanding educators.

Unfortunately, she departed this life on June 17, 1999.
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