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‘Teacher Vernon’ was a real Emmanuel

The following is a modified version of a tribute delivered by Len Isidora Mitchell at the August 29 funeral of her father Vernon E Mitchell (April 8, 1928–August 23, 2018) at the Abbey Church, Mt St Benedict.

A eulogy cannot do justice to 90 years of a man fully alive. He was an excellent swimmer, a sports enthusiast, an accomplished dancer and sweetbread baker. He enjoyed music and was blessed with a pleasant tenor.

In his youth he cycled around Trinidad. Vernon Mitchell had a serious demeanor but was of quick wit and could surprise with a keen—even spicy—sense of humour.  Rarely did he laugh out loud but would be seen choking on a chuckle.  He was devoted to his God, committed to the Church, the poor, the aged and education.

Mitchell did not want to teach; teaching chose him. Orphaned at 12 and separated from his siblings, he lived with his grandfather.  He stammered badly but was appointed pupil teacher at 14.

He excelled at the Teachers’ Training College and was advised to stay in Port of Spain to sit the higher certificate for matriculation into a university in England.  However, the Secretary of the Catholic Board informed Daddy that he had been trained for Guayaguayare, not England. So, ‘Mitch’ returned to Guayaguayare.

By all accounts ‘Teacher Vernon’ had a profound effect on his students and for his 80th birthday, past pupils journeyed from across the island and abroad to celebrate this milestone. He was overwhelmed and never ceased to express surprise that his students would do such a thing for him.

Happily, the same secretary who had denied him, appointed a 38-year-old Vernon, Principal of Biche RC before departing for Ireland. But Vernon had learnt his lesson. Well before he was married, he bought land in St Augustine so that his children would attend secondary school and walk to The University of the West Indies. He left Guayaguayare in 1975.

Daddy served his communities. At Guayaguayare, he founded Everton Sports Club and was a member of the Village Council. There, at 25, began his 60-year association with the Society of St Vincent de Paul.

He was chauffeur to the sick, the aged and the ladies. He served as Auxiliary Minister of the Eucharist at the Laventille Devotions, St Joseph and St John parishes and as a Lay Minister and Confirmation catechist. Mass was his mainstay.

Retiring at 54, his was a daily presence at Morning Prayer and Mass at Mt St Benedict where he assisted at the 5.15 a.m. Mass on Sundays.

I will share a secret with you written by Daddy himself.  “My Third Stage teacher…repeatedly called me Vernon Mitchell. My name on the Roll Book was Emmanuel Mitchell.…When this was pointed out to her, she replied that I resembled someone she knew called Vernon.…I have borne that name ever since.  Teachers should be careful of what they do or say.  There can be repercussions beyond what they imagine.”

Sometimes Daddy would say that if he went to hell it would be because of some fault as a teacher. Amazingly—while home-bound—a day did not pass if someone did not call, visit or ask for him. I assure you that your concern buoyed his spirit.

Daddy was born on Easter Sunday, 1928 and I am sure that you will agree with me that his mother’s choice of name was prophetic. He was truly Emmanuel, God with us.