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From the Publishers Desk – Learning fun beyond the book (Oct. 29, 2014 issue)

The smell of formaldehyde filled the room. With scalpel in hand, I pushed forward with the task before me. It was unchartered territory for me and one slip would declare the process a fail, with no ability to repair the error.
The cadaver was firmly positioned and stretched into a workable pose. The layers were gently cut and peeled back, exposing the muscles and tendons underneath.
At least I wasn’t alone in my endeavor. I was teamed with a partner and we were following the same process as all others around us. How couldn’t we go wrong? We were being led by someone who had done this numerous times in the past with numerous groups – biology teacher Helen Briggs.
I had Ms. Briggs for several classes when I attended Unicoi County High School. The process described above was disecting a cat. We also did the same with a frog and an earthworm. We were learnning the muscle groups and bodily functions. It was one of my most memorable classes and experiences in high school. I must also say that Ms. Briggs was one of my most memorable instructors as well.
I found her fashion for teaching and sharing book knowledge and personal knowledge to be fascinating. She caught and kept my interest during her classes. Her approach was interesting and I learned from it. In fact, I made some of my best grades under her teaching and won the award at the end of the school year twice in a row for her biology classes.
I can still see her walking through the high school hallways, slightly stooped over and qith a quick pace. It was common for her to keep one hand up at her chin and she would roll her eyes upward to see over her glasses. She had a friendly yet intriguing smile. Ms. Briggs’ hair was the perfect shade of red and always stood out in a crowd.
I am reflecting back on her in this column, wishing I had visited her more in her later days of retirement. I wish I had expressed to her how she had inspired me at a young age and how I appreciated how she kept her classes real and interesting.
I did see her several times after I started working here at The Erwin Record. She always remembered me and was so supportive and friendly. She would usually share some little tid bit of something she knew on some topic as if it slipped. This would be followed by cutting her eyes toward me as if to say “You didn’t hear that from me.”
I was reminded of my times in her classroom. I always wanted to listen closely because I never knew when I might pick up on something intriguing that wasn’t in the textbooks. It was always something that would stir the thoughts in young minds and keep us impressed and amazed at her vast information on just about anything.
Ms. Briggs is now deceased but her memory was honored this past Sunday at 2 p.m., at the Unicoi County High School library. There were a couple of dozen on hand to share fond memories of how this long-time teacher had touched and inspired them through the classroom or by working with her in the school ssytem.
It was just a small gesture to say “Thank you” to someone who had given so much of their time and energy to a job that was her life. She taught in a time where there was less paperwork for teachers and more time to devote to teaching. I am sure if Ms. Briggs were still around she would say the same, a little more bluntly, while slyly smiling, with her southern charm.
Fellow teacher Linda Bailey said of Ms. Briggs, “If you were ever Helen’s friend, you were her friend.” She told of numerous times that Ms. Briggs would pull up in her car and say “Get in.” You never knew where you were going, she said.
Mrs. Bailey had taked with her before her death and asked what type of service she would like. She told her she didn’t want a funeral. “But, if you want to get together later and kick ole’ Helen around, that will be fine,” Ms. Briggs told her.
Another fellow teacher, Pauline Rice, spoke of the many charities she gave to and of her efforts to support the hungry and those she knew who needed help with funeral expenses. “You couldn’t out give her,” Mrs. Rice said.
Connie Denney was present for the memorial service Sunday. She was Ms. Briggs’ neighbor in Erwin for several years. She spoke of how they would sometimes sit on the steps and talk, but often met in the middle of their street, Clinchfield Avenue.
There were many others who shared memories Sunday. Some I could relate to and others that just gave me more insight and appreciation for someone who was relatively private outside the classroom.
Ms. Briggs touched many lives in her 42 years of teaching and I am glad that I was one of those