I wanted to take a moment today to note the passing of Carol Lee McGuire-Bishop — my sixth and seventh grade social studies teacher and probably the biggest reason you’re reading my reporting in the Roanoke Times and on the Blue Ridge Caucus.
McGuire-Bishop — I still have a strong urge to call her Ms. McGuire — died early yesterday from injuries she suffered in a car wreck in Clifton Forge on Friday morning.
As some of you know, I’m a Clifton Forge native. I lived just outside the city limits on the east side, which meant that I attended Sharon Elementary School, which in the 1980s meant that I had Ms. McGuire as a teacher.
Her reputation was already well established at a school-wide level by the time I started kindergarten. She taught 6th and 7th grade social studies, but stories of her legendary temper trickled down to the lowest levels of the then-K-through-7 school. One story (probably a myth, but I wouldn’t rule it out as possibly true) had her slamming a door so hard that the window came out and flew across the hall, where it shattered on the opposite wall. When I first started school and paddling by the principal was still a real threat, that story was terrifying.
By the time I reached 6th grade, I was struggling with the onset of adolescence and dealing with one of the more challenging years of my life. But contrary to what I and my classmates had feared, Ms. McGuire wasn’t as bad as we’d heard.
True, she did work us hard. She all but required us to keep up with current events — preferably by reading a newspaper, whether it was the Roanoke Times or the local Virginian Review — and quizzed us regularly. She also lived up to her reputation for assigning lots and lots of reports: I think we did at least a dozen each on various aspects of the Civil War and World War II, ranging in length from a half a page to 3 or more pages.
But we found out she had a wicked sense of humor and could keep students laughing when she wanted. Her love of sports rivaled and probably surpassed that of even the most fervent fanboys in our classes. To some extent, we could predict her mood and homework load based on how the Washington Redskins, Virginia Tech Hokies and New York Yankees played.
And as stressful as the current events quizzes could be, they proved to be the gateway into the daily paper for me. I read the comics and sports pages for fun, but I read the news section for class. And it turned out the fall of 1988 through the spring of 1990 turned out to be a dramatic time for historic events — the fall of the Berlin Wall and the dissolution of the Soviet Union. That doesn’t even take into account the the 1988 presidential election.
Ms. McGuire would dictate current events for our notes. She didn’t cover every story in the paper, of course, so in some ways her delivery of each day’s events helped illustrate the idea of sorting stories by importance. As I got used to the paper, I got to where I could tell when something truly monumental had happened — and on those days I looked forward to hearing her take.
All of that helped prepare me for this job: I don’t know that there’s any better training to report and write for a newspaper than by spending years reading one.
In 2009, when Sen. Creigh Deeds, D-Bath County, won the Democratic primary for governor, I was assigned to travel up to my home Alleghany Highlands and get reaction from locals. I knew to hit some local hotspots — Cucci’s Pizzeria in Covington, the old Varsity Grill in Warm Springs — but on the drive up U.S. 220 I decided to call Ms. McGuire. She was retired then, so she was at home and was happy to agree to an interview.
She told me she was “elated” by his victory and added some local history:
“When Creigh first started out, he was so nervous and so self-conscious, but he always had the fire in his belly and the fire in the heart,” said Carol Lee McGuire-Bishop, who taught social studies in the Alleghany County school system for 31 years. “When you see him over TV or out with big crowds, you don’t understand how much he feels what he says. His grandparents were poor. He still lives in the same house his grandparents used to live in. His mother still carries the mail. I bet he’s the only candidate whose wife works. He is just true to his values. I don’t think his basic values have changed one bit.”
She introduced me to her new Scottie (her classrooms had been laced with images of the dog), but I didn’t realize until this weekend how she had regularly driven stray animals to other states to find “no-kill” shelters for them.
I did know, of course, about her love for Virginia Tech. I had an old Bimbo Coles poster from his time at VT, and Ms. McGuire is identifiable in the crowd in the background.
And earlier this year I was thrilled to see that she was the “feisty 70-year-old woman” who grilled Shane Beamer at a meeting of the Roanoke Valley Sports Club, which drew the notice of columnist Aaron McFarling.
Perhaps also noteworthy: The 2011 Ford Mustang she was driving at the time of her wreck on Friday was maroon with custom burnt orange pin stripes and VT logos.
In any case, I wanted to pay tribute to Ms. McGuire, who inspired me and a ton of other students in the Alleghany Highlands. I’ve been struck by how many people have written on Facebook and elsewhere, citing her as their favorite teacher. She certainly was a heck of an influence on me.
– Mason Adams