When award-winning educator Dr. Alice Wareham (nee Taylor) accepted an honorary degree from Memorial in 1990, she highlighted the dignity and power of education in her address to convocation.
Dr. Wareham lived this philosophy in both her professional life as a teacher but also through her volunteer work with organizations like the Canadian Cancer Society and Meals on Wheels.
Dr. Wareham passed away on Dec. 16, 2016, at the age of 97. In one of her final acts of charity, Dr. Wareham bestowed a generous estate gift to Memorial’s School of Music and the Queen Elizabeth II Library.
The gift carries forward her teaching legacy for future generations and touches on her love of music and education.
Memorial made a defining impact on Dr. Wareham, empowering and nurturing her talent throughout a long and successful career.
In 1936, at the age of 17, she graduated from the teacher training program at Memorial’s Parade Street campus. She reflected on those early years of uncertainty in her convocation address.
“I would often wonder why I was learning how to teach before I knew enough of what to teach,” she said to those assembled in the audience. “In those Depression years, the only way for many of us to set foot inside the doors of academe was to avail of the teacher-training indenture . . . ”
Yet despite her early doubts, Dr. Wareham enjoyed a more than 40-year career that included leadership positions as vice principal at St. Michael’s School and Bishops College in St. John’s, as well as a professor of English literature at Memorial.
She was the first female vice-president of the Newfoundland Teachers’ Association and was part of the association when it fought for equal pay for women teachers. She was also the first woman to be appointed principal of a large co-educational high school in St. John’s.
“Our students inspired and challenged us.”
She was a true pioneer in her field. She quietly challenged the conventions of the day without aligning to any one particular philosophy or ideology, except, perhaps, to her own sense of purpose and ethical standard.
In a 1969 article in the Evening Telegram, she discussed the women’s movement: “It is perhaps harder for a woman to succeed, but a woman must fail or succeed as a person — by the way she does the job.”
When Dr. Wareham received a special recognition award from the Canadian Teachers’ Federation the same year she was honoured by Memorial, she was given a standing ovation by 150 of her colleagues from across the country.
But, in what could be described as her typical fashion, Dr. Wareham played down her achievement. Instead, she shone a light on her students.
“Our students inspired and challenged us . . . I pray their forgiveness for the many times we let them down.”
She received many more awards throughout her career, including the Canadian University Women’s Scholarship at Memorial, the Governor General’s Medal and the Government of Canada’s Confederation Medal, just to name a few.
During her teaching years, Dr. Wareham continued her own education, earning a bachelor of arts in education from Memorial in 1952, a master of education degree from Boston University School of Education in 1962 and a master’s degree in English from Memorial in 1972.
Teaching is what brought the young Dr. Wareham, then Alice Taylor, to the community of Harbour Buffett in 1937.
It was there she met her future husband, a fellow teacher named Harold Baxter Wareham. Among the many things they had in common was a love of music; they would often gather around the piano at Mr. Wareham’s family home and play music together.
The onset of the war years saw Mr. Wareham enlist with the Royal Canadian Air Force — Pilot Officer Wareham took a leave from his Second World War duties to return home from Europe for their wedding ceremony. They spent 11 days together before he returned to military service. Tragically, he was killed on Dec. 16, 1943, at the age of 31.
According to Rev. Alfred Wareham, Dr. Wareham’s nephew, this profound loss set in motion the course of her career and life.
“After my uncle died, she devoted her life to education and the church,” he said. “She never remarried.”
Rev. Wareham recalls a fond memory of his aunt when she bought a new car. The first place she wanted to visit was Signal Hill in St. John’s because it was the closest place she could get to where her husband was buried in Cambridgeshire, England.
Lifetime of giving
Dr. Wareham supported many charities throughout her life and she acknowledged Memorial’s impact on her life and career by making a donation through a bequest, which she asked be split between the Queen Elizabeth II Library and the School of Music.
“She loved music very much,” said Rev. Wareham. “She was also an avid reader who loved literature.”
Dr. Wareham left a legacy to Memorial’s students, one steeped in her life’s philosophy: Education can enrich the world with love and respect, one student at a time.
“When we get teachers who are heart and soul dedicated to teaching, to bringing to the student the very best that is available, and bring it with understanding,” Dr. Wareham said in her Evening Telegram interview, “we’ll have solved our problem.”