Not one to back away from a fight
Clevelyn Crichlow has always loved a good fight.
It’s a good thing too. They were commonplace when he was a student at the old Central School in the late 1940s.
“Space was limited,” he said, explaining there could be as many as 50 children in a class. “All you had to do was bump someone with an elbow and the fight was on.”
He never lost because his older sister Gladys would step in whenever he needed back-up.
“Gladys would fight anyone, male or female,” he laughed. “She could fight!”
As a teenager, he was fascinated by electronics but knew his parents didn’t have the money to send him away to school. His father, Eustace, worked on a dredging ship that was digging a channel in Hamilton Harbour; his mother Agatha took in laundry and cared for Mr Crichlow and his seven siblings.
He graduated from the Berkeley Institute and decided to become a teacher as there were scholarships available from the Ministry of Education. Then 17, he had to wait a year before he could apply.
Undeterred, he took on a trainee position at Elliot Primary School and agreed to tackle the most difficult class.
The previous teacher had been fired because he couldn’t handle the students, some of whom were only a few years younger than Mr Crichlow.
“They weren’t going to intimidate me,” the 78-year-old said. “I’d come out of the Central School. I probably intimidated them.”
He ruled with a birch rod, dishing out spankings wherever he felt necessary.
“I was supposed to call in the principal when I dealt out physical punishment,” he said. “I never did. This was my class. Was I going to teach them to respect me through the principal? Today I’d probably be fired for that.”
But he was also caring and committed, frequently visiting his students’ homes on his own time.
“I’d sit down and have a cup of tea with the parents,” he said. “The child would be peeping around the doorway to hear what the teacher was saying to their parents. On Monday morning they would be as good as gold because they knew I was friends with their parents.”
It also helped him better understand some of the challenges his students faced.
“I had one boy who was always falling asleep in class,” he said. “I used to get really cross with him. Then one day I thought, ‘What’s going on with this child? Why is he so tired?’ I went to visit his parents.”
He found a house in chaos.
“The mother was always screaming at the top of her lungs at the children,” he said. “It was a very noisy house with lots of children running around. The boy had nowhere of his own to sleep, but had to sleep with his brothers. I thought, no wonder he was tired.” Back in class, he made a point of giving the student some time to catch up on his rest.
“That way the student was much more alert,” Mr Crichlow said. “He was grateful and today I’m still very close with him.”
At 18, Mr Crichlow headed to Ottawa Teachers’ College in Canada on scholarship. Two years later he returned, teaching at Elliot Primary School, Harrington Sound Primary School and Northlands Secondary School where he became principal in 1970.
A year later, he transferred to Prospect Primary as principal and started work on a bachelor’s degree from Queen’s University in Canada.
Once that was completed he was able to transition into the Ministry of Education where he worked for a few years before he became frustrated.
“In 1986, I got a call from Jimmy Brock who was in [the Ministry of Finance] at the time,” he said. “He said they needed a Postmaster General. I said, ‘I’m an educator, not a postman’.”
A year later, when work conflicts escalated, he took Mr Brock up on his offer.
“I thought I’d stay a year then go back to the Ministry of Education,” he said. “I ended up staying 15 years.”
While teaching, he’d been a fierce member of the Bermuda Union of Teachers negotiating salaries and work conditions with government. As Postmaster General, he sat on the other side of the table.
Salary meetings could get tough. A woman from the Department of Works & Engineering once threatened to have a truck dump trash on his lawn.
“It was like a cauldron of hell and I enjoyed it,” he said. “It was a fight.”
He retired in 2002. Although still connected with youths through his work with Family Court, he claims to feel increasingly disconnected from modern young people.
“I am a fossil,” he said. “I have no idea what these kids are going through. They have stuff that they are looking at online that I can not comprehend. I don’t understand how children can drive by and shoot their friends. I can’t fathom that.
“I don’t think I could be a teacher today. Either I would kill my students or they would kill me.”
Mr Crichlow’s favourite hobby is writing poetry, some of which has published in The Royal Gazette. Even that packs a punch, taking aim at everything from the British monarchy to youth violence.
He also loves travelling with his wife Rosemarie; the couple celebrate their 54th wedding anniversary on Boxing Day.
They met years ago when he was a student at Berkeley.
“I was walking down the road near Berkeley and she was sitting on the wall with her friends,” Mr Crichlow said. “I just looked at her and she looked at me. I never thought that was the woman I was going to marry. We didn’t say anything directly to each other.”
They met again in 1962 when she came to Elliot Primary to teach. Their sons, Craig and Anthony, are both teachers.
Penchant for poetry
Clevelyn Crichlow’s favourite pastime is writing poetry. The Search for Weapons of Mass Destruction appeared in The Royal Gazette on March 29, 2016. Mr Crichlow wrote it after a terrorist attack in Brussels, Belgium.
They maimed and butchered in a futile search, for weapons designed to kill
The countless numbers of citizens, refusing to bend to the tyrant’s will
Their bombs did slaughter both guilty and innocent, for Iraq they hoped to save
But in the end they only found a dishevelled, frightened dictator hiding in a cave
And as I pondered through the night just where these arms might be
A still small voice into my ear did whisper, quietly
The weapons of mass destruction, my son, are not what one may think
No machines spewing destruction and death, and bringing life to the very brink
No chemical defoliants, destroying the trees and choking the atmosphere
But a walking, talking Homo sapiens, with a faith that he holds dear
The weapons of mass destruction which will finally destroy the land
Is no natural or man-made disaster, my son, but God’s very creation ... man
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