Tuesday, August 12, 2014

B102. A Personal Tribute to Mr. Hugh Hampton Jr.

Hugh Hampton, Jr. (1946 – 2014)

“They may forget what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel.”  This is Hugh Hampton’s legacy, at least to one eighth grade student.  That 1975-76 school year, we eighth graders spent about an hour each with Mrs. Robbins for math, Mr. Hicks for science, and Mrs. Wagoner for health and phys. ed., and the other half of every day was spent in language arts and history with Mr. Hampton.

While my actual memories of the class are few, those I have preserved are special ones that honor Mr. Hampton as a creative outside-the-book teacher and as a teacher who found and encouraged the potential of every student.  I’ve never heard one negative word spoken about Mr. Hampton. He was well loved, and he made his students feel like we had something special to contribute.  The few memories I have protected all these years are obvious reflections of the specialness he made me feel.

First, there was the spelling bee. I always loved spelling bees and often won them in my classes, but somehow, every year, when my class would have the one spelling bee leading to the school competition, I never quite made it.  (I think Valerie Johnson was usually my stiffest competition!)  This year though, in Mr. Hampton’s class, rather than having just one bee to select the class winner, we held several bees, to see who won most often. Finally I was able to represent my class in the school bee, which I went on to win, and then went on to win the county bee, and then competed in the Journal-Sentinel regional bee in Winston-Salem.  When I came back to class after one of those wins (I forget which one), I remember Mr. Hampton telling the class that he knew he had the best speller when I correctly spelled “styptic” in one of the classroom bees.  Well, truthfully, I’m not sure I was a better speller than Valerie, but it was a good run!

I have another memory of Mr. Hampton teaching us about homonyms. Rather than giving us a definition to memorize for a test, he set up a competition with a prize.  I don’t know if it was the prize or just my competitiveness, but my over-achieving self came out, and I won the competition by listing hundreds of homonyms during the 1-2 week time span. I remember him being impressed, or at least making me feel like he was!

My only other memory of actual class time was that we elected 8th grade officers in his class and held class meetings. I was elected secretary, and my job was to take minutes of our class meetings.  I don’t remember what we talked about in our meetings, and I don’t think the minutes have survived, but we were learning meeting protocol and etiquette and building skills that would later encourage me to run and win as secretary of my high school class all four years.  I remember that I didn’t even really understand what “minutes” were, except that my mom was church secretary and she took the minutes of the church business meetings, so in preparation for my “job,” I read the church minutes, which led me to write very formal 8th grade minutes; and again, I remember Mr. Hampton being impressed, or at least making me feel like he was.

I do have two other memories of that school year with Mr. Hampton – two field trips on the activity bus, both history related. One day we went to Winston-Salem to see Gone with the Wind. Now, for you young folks, this was in the days before video rentals or DVRs. To see a movie, you had to go the theater, except that old movies might show up once a year on one of the three TV networks, but only at the one specific time – no recording to watch later! After the movie we made a stop at Bethabara Park, one of the Moravian historic sites that would many years later interest me greatly, but at that time I think lunch at McDonald’s was probably my favorite part of the trip. Still for some reason, the memory has stayed.

The other field trip was a Yadkin County history tour. We went to parts of the county I knew nothing about, with interspersed stories that captured 8th grade minds. Even now when I hear of Huntsville, I am carried back to that trip. I remember going to the Hunt House and learning the stories behind its reputation for being haunted.  I remember seeing the Siloam Bridge, which had collapsed just months before, sending cars plummeting into the fog-covered Yadkin River 30 feet below, leaving fatalities and injuries.

In retrospect I can see that in both these trips Mr. Hampton was sharing his love of history, and I so appreciate the creative ways he shared it . . . 

and how he made his students feel.

Above photo: me, Mr. Hampton, and friend Luanne

Top photo: Mrs. Wagoner, me, and Mr. Hampton at 8th grade graduation, June 4, 1976

Mr. Hampton's obituary here

Related post: Meeting Mrs. Freeman


Jeaneane Wrights said...

The first time I met Mr. Hampton, I was determined not to like him. Struggling with my own personal version of pre-teen angst and rebellion, I certainly didn’t want one more teacher telling me who they thought I should be, what to think, or how to act. He was conducting a reading test and had each student report to him in a room alone where we had to read aloud to him. I hated to read aloud (still do) and I think I even told him so. He didn’t flinch when I threw my feet up on the desk in front of him. I didn’t flinch when he had me stop reading the first text he had given me and gave me another. It was an excerpt from “Roots.” We talked about books in general for a while. He said I could read anything I wanted and gave me a list of books he thought I might enjoy. He was the first teacher who ever treated me as though he saw a whole person. I was not the best or brightest student he had, but that really didn’t seem to matter. I had found a mentor. He would become my version of John Keating.

Like all of his students, I remember the field trips and the spelling bees and his love of history. He made up activities like interviewing historical figures and creating a time capsule. I was extremely adept at being bored, but I just couldn’t manage it in his classroom. A few years ago, when I worked at the History Center in New Bern, I used to create scavenger hunts and crossword puzzles to train our staff on North Carolina history. The idea that learning history should be fun has deep roots. I can thank Mr. Hampton for that.

I could relate several stories about my bad behavior during that school year: the practical jokes, the times I ended up in Mr. Nixon’s office, my new found love for cutting classes, and lots of crazy stuff that I did with my new group of friends. I crammed a lot of stuff into that one year and I could always talk it over with Mr. Hampton. He was maybe the best listener I’ve ever known. Great listeners ask great questions and he always challenged me to think. Suddenly, the world was a bigger place and had more possibilities than I had dared imagine. I had a sense of freedom that I could make my own place there eventually and that it would all be okay. Is there any greater gift than that?

I was in the last 8th grade class he ever taught and I was quite angry with him that he didn’t finish the school year with us. I could not understand how someone could be so good at something and just stop doing it. We had more than a few talks about it. I tried to be a better listener. I still try to imitate his patience.

We stayed in touch for several years. I still have the letters he wrote back to me. I can only imagine the stuff I dribbled out to him about high school and my early college years. Apparently, I sent some very long ones. He mentions a 15 page letter once. I can remember sitting in study hall my freshman year of high school and writing to him like I was journaling. It was fun and comforting.

When I was a teenager and was turned loose at Hanes Mall for any length of time, I would often call him from the payphone to ask him about the books I was considering at Waldenbooks or just to chat. He always seemed glad to hear from me but often said he was suspicious of someone who always called from a payphone. He was funny that way. He could always make me laugh.

I’ve thought about him so many times over the years and I regret that I didn’t try harder to contact him just one more time. If I could now, I would just want to say, “Thanks. You mattered to me. You made a difference for me. You are not forgotten, nor ever could be.” And of course, I would say, “Hi. How’ve you been?” and I hope I would just listen. Just like he taught me.

My thoughts and prayers are with his family. May you find peace in the blessings of your memories.
- Jeaneane Blackburn Wrights

Kathy Vestal said...

Thank you, Jeaneane. A beautiful tribute!