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Clyde Roberts was a fine teacher and a good citizen

February 10, 2011|By ALLAN POWELL

There was a wide sense of loss when it was announced that Clyde Roberts would no longer be among his many friends and admirers. Wherever there was an art exhibit, you could count on seeing Clyde and Janet setting up a splendid array of paintings. In time, there were two more family members, Kent and Cindy, to contribute to the world of art.

There are several reasons why there was an interest in sharing a portion of Clyde’s life with others. To begin, successful teachers deserve recognition at a time when there are many unfounded comments about our allegedly “failing educational system.” Clyde was a talented artist and dedicated teacher who worked tirelessly for the public school system for over three decades and left a colorful legacy over the region.

These few words are intended to be a personal account reflecting a professional connection and friendship over 60 years. I became aware of Clyde’s abilities and personality in 1954, when I joined the faculty at the former Hagerstown High School. He was teaching art, not far from where I was teaching American History.

We had good memories of the old red-brick high school. Clyde confessed a wild gamble to win an art contest. He had placed a flat board against a wall in his classroom to serve as a splashboard. Over the years, a bizarre blotch of random sprays of paint collected. Clyde declared that he entered the motley mess into an art contest and took first prize. Sometimes, luck trumps talent.

In 1955, former Superintendent of Schools William Brish invited us to be part of a new faculty of 12 to pioneer an experiment in teaching on a countywide basis using cable television. The project was to be funded by the Ford Foundation. Our lessons would be viewed simultaneously in all high schools in Washington County, while other subjects were taught in middle and elementary schools.

Tenure at the television center, just behind the Municipal Swimming Pool, was a struggle against time to get a daily lesson prepared. Televised lessons required precisely planned programs that devoured information and visuals hungrily. Clyde was always innovative and resourceful. On one occasion, he convinced a circus manager, then setting up tents, to bring animals to his art class. Needless to say, the sight of a monkey and an elephant was a thrill to many students.

This style of teaching was intensive, but occasionally there was time for recreation at noon. At these times, there was a rush to the pits to toss horseshoes. Once in a while, we played softball. In all of these events, Clyde was typically cheerful and a good athlete.

Because of the difficulty in preparing an acceptable lesson every day, it was not unusual for staff members to work at night. Now and then, we would see Brish moving from office to office to see how things were going. While he was pleasant, it was obvious that he was “bone-tired” and weary. He, too, gave his utmost to make the experiment successful, as did the faculty.

After three years of teaching history by the new technology, I wanted a new challenge. Brish was very generous and arranged for a transfer to the junior college, then adjacent to South High. Clyde continued on the television faculty for several more years, then was promoted to art supervisor for Washington County Schools, retiring after 33 years.

In addition to professional contacts after the stint on television, we would cross paths pursuing the “labor of love” which consumed our lives. Clyde and Janet would attend regional events to make their art available, while I signed several publications about the French and Indian War era.

During that span of time, there was no change in the character or personality of Clyde. He was a good person with a caring, happy presence. He was a good husband, father and citizen. The last time that I saw Clyde was last spring, when we literally bumped into Clyde and Janet in Clear Spring, when the annual National Road parade was in progress. Seated in lawn chairs, Joanie and I shared their company in spontaneous chatter that calms the inner self.

The community has lost a fine teacher and a good citizen. Clyde will be missed.   

Allan Powell is professor emeritus of philosophy at Hagerstown Community College.

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