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April 7, 2018

Growing up in Louisa – Bascomb Boyd!  

Weekly feature . . . by Mike Coburn

If school kids are a type of people, or are at least people in the making, it is understandable that they are likely to form life-long opinions about each other and those adults with which they had daily contact. Thinking back, I think that foremost in many people’s memories are the teachers that they studied under over their student careers. This isn’t unique to any particular generation because I remember teachers from every grade. In this article, I will focus on what I know or have been told about the time when I was in school. A truth that will universally apply is that teachers matter and tend to influence the lives of their young charges.

This article will address a teacher whose reputation is almost bigger than life. I caution readers to keep in mind that he, like everyone else, was human. I’m sure he had his failings and issues, but my intent isn’t to expose, but rather to celebrate what was apparently a job well done. No other teacher I know approaches the reputation and influence as that of Mr. Bascomb Boyd. Even today, some shutter at the memories that his name evokes. There are those who smile with warm memories of that kind, caring man, while others freeze and groan remembering the fear of earning his displeasure.

Mr. Boyd was a large fellow, over six feet tall and a bit hefty, too. I remember seeing him in the hallways wearing a three-piece suit, complete with a pocket-watch and fob attached to his vest. In my Louisa High Louisa High time he had thinning white hair, but I have seen pictures of the man with dark hair and protruding eyes. Whether the duty was assigned or assumed, he was the guardian and time-keeper at the front door to the old LHS ‘Kentucky Normal’ school building. He stood at his post just outside of his classroom to warn students ‘not to run in the hallways,’ or to ‘hurry along and not be late.’ Finally, at the correct time based upon the pocket watch, he would push the button to ring the five-minute warning bell, and then the tardy bell. At that sound all the doors on campus would shut and classes would begin. Those poor students arriving late would easily be seen when they opened the shut door to enter their classroom. I have no experience to say that someone late to Mr. Boyd’s class suffered any more than those in other classes, but I suspect that a look from this man was like the wrath of God.

Even when I was a young seventh-grader, I learned through campus scuttlebutt that he was a ‘no-nonsense’ fellow who demanded the undivided attention of all his students. At the beginning of school, some signed up for his classes believing he was the better of three mathematics teachers on the Board of Education payroll, but some unlucky kids were assigned to his class when the other classes filled. For a few, it could be perceived as a doomsday assignment. In fairness to Mr. Boyd, his subjects, algebra and geometry, were a serious challenge for people whom were still struggling with multiplication tables. As in anything, some students did well, but there were also some that had to just try to hang on to earn the necessary credits required for graduation.

Bascomb Boyd award FHABascomb Boyd award FHA


My classmate from the class of 1960, Betty Meade Cooke, tells me that she was scared to death of him. She discovered a key aspect of the man that I have heard over and over. Betty needed to find a way to make a good grade in that class, so she took a chance that was a risk. She had her initial problems like all of us with understanding the subject, but when she approached Mr. Boyd in study hall, he was more than pleased to help her understand the subject. He worked with her over the years to bring her performance to ‘A-level.’ As others, she found that showing interest and asking for help paid big dividends. This would be a life lesson we might all apply even now.

Mr. Boyd was really interested in students learning in his classes of algebra, geometry, and trigonometry. Many did so, even if it involved much study and suffering. Many went on to become successful in their college careers and several professions, including engineering. Students who asked for help, or who excelled, became favorites and were used as examples to others to apply themselves. Risking being called a ‘favorite’ student or a ‘teacher’s pet,’ some tried to avoid that by seeking outside help. I don’t think he liked his reputation as a tough teacher, and may have even been hurt that someone feared him. He was perhaps a ‘tender lion’ who really cared for his students.    

I know that he was held in the highest esteem by the faculty, staff, and the student-body. I don’t know if he had a sense of humor since I picture him as a serious man bent on discipline in study. I spoke with him many times, but never had his classes. I always found him to be friendly. One thing I have learned over the years is that all of us are merely people that have our weaknesses. Frankly, in those days I had no thoughts this man had any. Like several teachers of the day, Mr. Bascomb Boyd was very much in charge with a sobering presence. After a time of knowing him you found that he didn’t have to speak. A look was enough. The message meant was understood by all.

My friend Bernard Nelson tells me he lived down on Sycamore Street near Andy York’s grocery store. He was a neighbor to Harold “Squeak” Frazier, a classmate Ruth Ann Jordan, and Jesse Thompson, with her parents, teachers J. Walter and Anna ThompsonWhen Bascomb passed I’m told that he left his estate to Harold. Nelson considered him a friend when he took algebra in the ninth grade. Mr. Boyd always made himself available to help once Nelson, or any student showed interest. Mr. Boyd wrote to Nelson when the young fellow had graduated and was off in basic training. This agrees with the comments of several others, like Delbert Caudill, but is in sharp contrast with the fear and trepidation that others feel when recalling those years. Delbert once wrote me that Mr. Boyd was ‘the most hated and at the same time the most beloved teacher at school.’ It was said that he had memorized the text books and could quote theorems by page number. I guess it’s intimidating to face someone with that level of learning.

In the past when I’ve mentioned his name in this column I have received many responses, most painting him as scary, but fair, and every bit worthy of his reputation as a giant of a teacher. No one who had any of his classes has forgotten him. He continues to loom big in our memories. All I need to say is “Bascomb” or Mr. Boyd and the stories begin to flow.

Reputations aside, to many he was bigger than life. I think the fear factor was there, but I also suspect he would have been disappointed that he discouraged any of his students. I wanted them to be excited with the subject-matter and to see him as a good teacher. He accomplished that with many and is recalled as a committed educator trying to make a difference. He did make a difference in so many lives as proven by the success of his students. Maybe you were one of those.    This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.




0 #4 Bernard 2018-04-09 18:04
Great article mike, even years after being a student we can still think about our favorite teachers & what they meant to us. As you are aware, your Aunt Shirley Chapman was one of my favorites and taught me a thing or two about math that I still use to this day.
0 #3 Bernard 2018-04-09 17:59
Mike, I forgot to mention that when Mr. Boyd retired a bunch of us David Whites, Ed Rice and many more gave him a "This is your life" party at Rips Restaurant. My wife made a hugh cake, using red icing and pearl like strips, made it look like the school building. I got some info together about where he was raised and his schooling. He was really surprised that the restaurant was standing room only, everyone had a great time and Mr. Boyd so surprised that we had gone to all that effort to find out about him & present it like we did. He use to mention it every time we would see each other. I wAS SO GLAD WE DID IT FOR HIM, JUST TO SHOW A HOW MUCH WE APPRECIATED HIM.
0 #2 Larry L Weeks 2018-04-09 12:26
Loved it! Was it Yogi Berra that famously said, "A man is not forgotten if he is remembered?" Partly because of Bascomb Boyd, I majored in math. When I retired from the Marines, I taught algebra and geometry with Bascomb Boyd's tactics in mind. I will not forget. My favorite teacher. Well done, Mike.
0 #1 always a teacher 2018-04-07 15:43
You have it right, Michael. Feared and beloved. That was Mr. Boyd. He would come to school at 6 AM to help students who worked after school, and his face would turn purple in exasperation with students who "goofed off". A great man. A great teacher.

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