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Amalia Hethcoat

Jose was going through his facebook account at the ranch on Sunday, and his face fell. "Oh no! Mrs. Hethcoat died." It took me a second to realize what Jose was talking about and then I was awash with a supreme sadness.

Amalia Hethcoat was my home room/advisory teacher my first and second year of high school. She was born in Bogota, Columbia, and she always had a fairly thick accent. We'd meet in the language lab in the mornings, and ten or so of us would spend ten minutes at the beginning of each school day with her. She'd record attendance, dole out announcements, and otherwise start off the school day with us. And in those two years, I felt like she took particular attention to me, especially early on. I was new in the school when many of my classmates had been there for eight years prior. I had been a big fish in a small pond in my elementary/middle school, and I was definitely a small fish in this much bigger pond at St. John's. I was sort of lost in my first semester or two of high school, and Amalia helped me considerably. She was kind to me, and she guided my academics in those first few years so that they were managable.

I never called her Amalia back then. She was Mrs. Hethcoat, and in addition to being my Advisor, she was my Spanish teacher. That first semester, she helped me figure out which spanish class I should be in. I had a masssive vocabulary and very poor grammar, which made sense given the way I grew up speaking Spanish in a very haphazard manner. So I had good reasons for being in anywhere from Spanish I to Spanish III. Ultimately, we decided on Spanish I, so I could have a class that I excelled in while I was struggling in some others, and so I could really polish off the grammar demons that had haunted me for awhile. I consistently did very well in her class.

My relationship with her was always pretty good, but it got even better in the summer of 1989, between my sophomore and junior year of high school. I was 16 years old, and Amalia (this is when I started calling her Amalia) arranged for a group of maybe 15 of us to go to Spain for the summer with students from Rice University. This was the first trip of what would become an annual affair for students at St. John's. We started for a week in Santander, tooling around in the northern part of the country. We even jaunted into Biarritz and Bayone in France for a weekend. And then we moved to Segovia, closer to Madrid, where we lived with a host family for five weeks and took Spanish classes. On weekends we'd wander around the Spanish countryside, checking out culture and history. Amalia relaxed condsiderably on this trip. She didn't really care if we drank alcohol and she wasn't scandalized when the driver of the bus that took us from Madrid to the northern part of the country put a soft-core porn in the overhead video. She just made sure that we were all in relatively one piece at the end of our adventures, and she made sure that our Spanish improved considerably. My final teacher-student interaction with her was my final year of high school when I took AP spanish with her. I got a 5.

All three of my siblings followed me through St. John's, and most if not all of them had Mrs. Hethcoat as their spanish teacher at some point or another. Olivia went to Spain with her on a similar trip that I had gone on when she was 16. Amalia would occassionally ask about me, and I'd see her every few years when I'd go back for a graduation or some on-campus event. After Olivia graduated in 1997, I didn't really have a reason to go on campus much, and I sort of lost track of most of my beloved teachers at St. John's.

I last saw Amalia two years ago at the party for the Latin Wave film festival at the Museum of Fine Arts. The films for Latin Wave are all from Latin America, and the festival takes place over the course of a weekend. I looked over to see my sister Claudia animatedly talking to someone, and she waved me and Jose over to come see. Amalia had been in the theater watching a few of the films, and she'd stopped by the party to grab a glass of wine when Claudia ran into her. She couldn't believe that I was a lawyer, Jose was an architect and Claudia was running promotions at the museum. She mentioned that her daughter Julie, who was a year or so ahead of me at St. John's, had also gone, like Olivia, to live in San Francisco. She told us that she was still teaching at St. John's, still taking kids to Spain. She looked great, and it was wonderful to see her after so many years. She seemed so much like she always had, and I realized that one of the things that I loved about her was that she treated me like an adult.

It's sort of shocking that she's died. A few people on facebook are also in a state of shock over this. I saw in her obituary that she'd stopped teaching in 2008 because of her health, and I gather that a cancer of some sort took her life. It was too short, and it's hard to think of someone with such a passion for life as having died.

She will be missed.


( 4 comments — Say something )
Apr. 14th, 2009 09:51 pm (UTC)
She sounds like a great woman, and I'm glad she was in your life.
Apr. 15th, 2009 02:16 am (UTC)
I googled Senora Hethcoat's name to read her obituary online. When this post came up I saw the beginning of your post and immediately clicked on it to read it. I was in Senora Hethcoat's class this year and she was as you said, the best teacher I could have hoped for. Unfortunately the last week before our final exam she was diagnosed with stage 3 lymphoma. She approached it in an extremely courageous and strong manner. When she told us about it that week, the entire classroom fell silent and then she said, "But don't worry, since I won't be there, you won't have to have a composition!" At this we all began to chuckle. Although I was only lucky enough to have Senora for one amazing semester, I feel truly blessed. I'm so glad you got to have a similar experience and my day was brightened after reading your post. I attended her funeral today and it was truly an honor to her amazing life.
Apr. 15th, 2009 04:23 am (UTC)
I'm sorry for your loss, but glad you got to know her.
Dec. 28th, 2010 07:44 pm (UTC)
Amalia Hethcoat
I'm not really anonymous. I'm Amalia's widower, Charles. We've met before. I only just happened onto your post, though. Thank you for your kind words. They mean a lot to me.
( 4 comments — Say something )