Local Obituaries

Math teacher found a formula for success in a classroom of teenage boys

English literature seems scrawled on the chalkboard but that’s likely a remnant from a previous class. Sheila Sawyer, conversing with her students at Christopher Columbus High School in West Miami-Dade in this late 1970s yearbook photo, taught math at the private school from 1976 to 1990.
English literature seems scrawled on the chalkboard but that’s likely a remnant from a previous class. Sheila Sawyer, conversing with her students at Christopher Columbus High School in West Miami-Dade in this late 1970s yearbook photo, taught math at the private school from 1976 to 1990. Christopher Columbus High School

Mathematics is an exact science where 1+1 will always equal 2 and there’s little room for levity in its instruction.

Math is a discipline that Sheila Sawyer cherished, both as a teacher at Christopher Columbus High School, a private Catholic boys’ school in West Miami-Dade, and in her private life.

Sawyer died Aug. 8 after a long battle with Parkinson’s disease. Her son, Douglas Sawyer, marveled at the sway the science had on her. “She really loved math, even in her later years when she was not all the way there. If we put a math book in her hands she kind of lit up,” he said.

One of her students from Columbus fondly recalled another side, too.

“I remember Mrs. Sawyer as being witty, sarcastically funny, and joking,” Claude Roatta, a Class of ’81 Columbus grad said. “A good sense of humor. She was never someone you would be careful of. She was pretty fair and easy going.”

Douglas, a Columbus grad from the Class of ’75 — a year before his mother started her 1976-90 teaching run at the school — chuckled at the description.

“Well, she’s Irish,” he said. “People told me they loved her.”

Sawyer loved to socialize with friends and host parties at her homes in Coconut Grove, Morningside, and, finally, Coral Gables, her son said.

But she wasn’t a standup comic.

Shelia Sawyer 77 (2)
Sheila Sawyer in her 1977 yearbook photo. Sawyer taught at Christopher Columbus High from 1976 to 1990. Christopher Columbus High School

“On the other hand, to survive at Columbus in those days as a woman teacher, you had to have a certain level of discipline to handle a classroom of boys,” her son said. “And yet she wasn’t an ogre or overbearing or the nun with a ruler in hand. She was very genuine. ‘Kind’ is a word that is overused, but she really was a nice person and cared about her students and loved math. She used that to control a classroom of teenaged boys.”

Said Brother Kevin Handibode, president of Columbus: “She was a fantastic teacher who devoted herself to her students. I remember how she always made time to help her students before and after school. She was proud that her three sons graduated from Columbus and was an active supporter of the school.”

The Columbus family is saddened by her passing and she and her family are in our thoughts and prayers.

Brother Kevin Handibode, president of Christopher Columbus High School.

Sawyer was born in Torrington, Conn. In 1952, while triple-majoring in music, math, and political science, she met a recent U.S. Naval Academy graduate, Nassau, Bahamas-born William “Pete” Sawyer, at the submarine base in New London, Conn. They married in 1953 and moved to Miami, where he grew up and joined his father at the Carl Sawyer Steamship Agency, one of the first freight concessions from the Port of Miami to the Caribbean basin.

The couple raised four children and were together until his death in 2013.

Sawyer’s survivors also include her children Carlene, Jeffrey, and William Jr.; and grandchildren Bridget Sawyer-Revels and Matthew Sawyer.

Funeral and celebration of life services will begin at 4 p.m. Friday at Saint Augustine’s Catholic Church, 1400 Miller Rd., Coral Gables. Donations in Sawyer’s honor can go to Christopher Columbus High School Development.

Howard Cohen: 305-376-3619, @HowardCohen

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