Lois Childs Meyer could trace her roots back to her family’s arrival in Rockport, Massachusetts, in 1634.
“They were refugees and my family never forgot,” Meyer, a longtime Miami-Dade schoolteacher, was quoted in an obituary her family sent to the Miami Herald. She died at 90 on Sept. 27.
Meyer, who taught language arts at Ida M. Fisher Junior High in the early ’70s and at Miami Edison Senior High from 1974 to 1997, put action to those memories. During her time at Edison, a great number of Haitian immigrants arrived in Miami and enrolled at the school.
Many struggled with language barriers but Meyer was determined that these new arrivals would succeed. She developed a university fast-track program.
“These kids were showing up in ninth grade and didn’t speak English and she took them from that to Miami Dade College and university,” her son Thomas Meyer said.
Her teaching methods incorporated functional literacy examples and a lot of love. “We just focused on getting these beautiful children into college,” she said.
Wasn’t easy, her son said. The school system “was swamped, social services were decimated” but Meyer persevered. “She was running around like the Dutch boy with his finger in the dike,” Meyer said. At the time of the McDuffie riots in May 1980, she calmed her frightened students who were under lockdown in their classroom.
Her students affectionately dubbed her “Mami.” Quitting wasn’t an option — for them, or her.
“There are too many brilliant young minds depending on me,” she told a local TV interviewer once. Besides, she added, “We have finals tomorrow.”
Meyer was born Oct. 30, 1924, in Woodstock, Connecticut, the daughter of a school principal. She was a direct descendent of poets Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and William Blake, her family says. Elliot Richardson, a member of the cabinets of presidents Nixon and Ford, including U.S. attorney general during the Watergate scandal, was a member of her extended family. American Bandstand’s eternal teen Dick Clark was a classmate.
Meyer earned her master’s in language arts from Mount Holyoke University. She arrived in Key Biscayne, via sailboat from New York, with her husband and children in 1947.
Colorful family members aside, for Meyer it all came down to teaching and making a difference.
At Fisher Junior High in 1970, Meyer made an impression on a young Mitchell Kaplan, 12 years before he founded Books & Books and later co-founded the Miami Book Fair.
“She had a wonderful love of literature and she was really one of those teachers that cared greatly for her students,” Kaplan said. “I always felt she took the students’ point of view very seriously and empowered them.”
Meyer once said, “For America to remain a great republic, we need to educate all of us.” Her son Thomas feels that is her lasting legacy. “I’d like her to be remembered as an educator who leveled the playing field.”
In addition to her son Thomas, she is survived by sons Allan Julius, Jeffrey Blake, Douglas Van Gieson and George Walton, 22 grandchildren and 14 great grandchildren. A celebration of life will be held at 2 p.m. Saturday at Biscayne Nature Center, 6767 Crandon Blvd., Key Biscayne.