The nation mourns an ‘iconic figure’

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By Martina Johnson

When renowned writer and educator Mary Geo Quinn passed away at her Cedar Valley home yesterday, she was 87 years old. Up to that time, she still using her great mind to complete her 10th novel which her youngest daughter, Lydia Quinn, said she hopes to publish so people could continue to learn and benefit from her mother’s knowledge and experiences.

She was not always a Quinn; she was born Mary Hampson on December 5th, 1931. Lydia said her mother attended St. Marks School in Pigotts and performed so well she was chosen to become a pupil teacher at 14 or 15 years old, and that’s when her journey of educating thousands of Antiguan and Barbudan children began.

“She went on to Teacher’s Training College and became qualified as a teacher, a general teacher because they taught all the subjects. She taught at several primary schools — New Winthorpes, Pigotts, Villa, Five Islands, and Bendals. And she also taught at Pilgrim High School which is now the Wesleyan Junior Academy on Fort Road,” young Quinn recalled.

Mrs. Quinn last taught at Bendals Primary and retired while she was Principal or Headmistress there. Before that, she served as the Principal at Five Islands and Golden Grove primary schools.

She also taught at the Holy Trinity School in Barbuda.

It was either by coincidence or design, Lydia chuckled, that her mother, “Mary”, who was a very spiritual and God-fearing woman, met and married Josep, and they had eight children.

The eldest is Paul who currently hosts OBSERVER Radio’s Voice of the People, followed by John, Phillip, Dr. Jacqui Quinn – who became the first female elected parliamentarian in Antigua in 2004, Pearl, Peter, Barney, and Lydia. The latter two also did short stints with OBSERVER media, a place where Mrs. Quinn also once worked as a columnist and librarian. She produced a weekly column in The Daily OBSERVER entitled Tales Out of School, through which she reflected on her experiences as a teacher, mother, and patriot observing the goings on in the nation.

Lydia said her mother was very passionate about her history, and this was reflected in her writings – nine books and scores of poems.

In 2000, Mrs. Quinn copped the first annual King of Redonda Literary Award for her memoir, Recollections.

It was just two years ago that she published her ninth book Hol’ De Line and Other Stories, making her the oldest person to do so in Antigua and Barbuda. And, up to the time of her death, despite being ill and bedridden, the matriarch of the Quinn family was still sharing information to add to her 10th book which she had been working on for several years.

Lydia said she hopes to put all the information together, some of which her mother wrote down and has already been converted to electronic format, and some which still has to be converted from paper to electronic form before the book, which would have about 25 chapters, can be published.

Speaking about what her mother was like at home, the youngest of Mrs. Quinn’s children said she was a very humble, caring person who was also strict and always looked out for other people.

“She was very strict; she would want us to mind our friends. Even when the boys were playing football, and it was time to come home, she would be calling them – Paul, John and Phillip and the children would laugh … She was very loving, and yes, she would use the whip, but it would be done in a loving way.

“She was very thorough as an educator, very meticulous; she wanted to see her students come out as good individuals with good character, good traits. She wasn’t just interested in you academically, she was interested in the whole person,” Lydia said.

In addition to that, Lydia said her mother took many students “under her wings, and they were like our other siblings, and up to now they respond to her like a mother.” According to her, her mother would want to be remembered for bringing joy and happiness to people.

Hundreds of messages flooded the social media pages of the Quinn family yesterday from the time the news of her death broke.

The comments are a clear testimony as to the kind of individual she was as many noted she was a mother figure who uplifted and nurtured them during their school years, and even after they completed school.

Among the personal messages of sympathy sent to the family, was one from Prime Minister Gaston Browne, who referred to the deceased as an “iconic figure”.

Expressing condolences on behalf of the Government of Antigua and Barbuda, he wrote, “Mrs. Quinn was an iconic figure whose contribution to education and the literature of Antigua and Barbuda has earned her a place among the literati of our nation. She has made many young people appreciate the value of the written word: and, she has helped many to grasp the worthiness of formal education.”

The PM noted that as a teacher, Mrs. Quinn inspired young people to achieve and her children’s successes attest to “the infectious power of her love of learning”.

The fact that she published a book just two years ago did not go unnoticed by the prime minister, who said it “speaks loudly to her determination to share herself even as her life began to ebb.”

PM Browne concluded, “May all members of her family find comfort in her shared love and the peace which a life of fulfilment affords.”

Meanwhile, in a post on Facebook confirming her mother’s death early Thursday, Mrs. Quinn’s first daughter, Dr. Jacqui Quinn, wrote that while the family is mourning her death, they are celebrating her life.

She stated, “Today the Quinn family is grief-stricken at the passing of our loving, gracious, talented, beautiful, creative and God-fearing mother, grandmother, auntie, sister, friend. Mary Geo Quinn …  Many women have done excellently, but you surpass them all!” Proverbs 31:29 ESV. Sleep in peace, Mommy. We love you!”

Mrs. Quinn was predeceased by her husband more than 20 years ago. In addition to her eight children, she is survived by over a dozen grandchildren and many other relatives.

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