Mrs. Randolph was a highly cultured lady from Birmingham, Alabama. She taught the Senior Seminar and other classes in the school year 1966-1967. Her goal in that seminar was to expose us to a variety of arts and prepare us for college courses. We studied Shakespeare, literature, the opera, painting, poetry and music, and Mrs, Randolph taught us how they all came from the same source of artistic inspiration and achieved the same effect of what I’d call the exhilaration and insight of art, and sometimes catharsis, too. She led us in wonderful discussions and to this day, that was the class I loved most in high school and college. I could tell you all the students who were there, and many of them remain my friends.
She was a brilliant lady of what we could call the older manners, since they are seldom taught any more. Her tone was slightly formal yet warm and personal. Same as all these teachers we chronicle here, she cared deeply about her students, and I think loved us. She had the highest regard for all the art and artists we studied. Clearly they had been part of her long life, and she was about 70 years old then.
One Monday she greeted us at the beginning of class by expressing mock exasperation, and said over the weekend she’d been shopping for a new car, without success. “I need an old lady car,” she said, and most of the cars they offered were souped up or otherwise inappropriate. She could be so funny and witty. As I think about it now, she maintained a pleasant, diligent tone but was always ready to laugh if the opportunity arose.
She led us more deeply into consideration of philosophy and ethics than any teacher at Sunny Hills, and as she taught, she had a sense of drama that could enthrall us.
If I understood Mrs. Randolph correctly, she had what is now a somewhat old fashioned theory of literature, and one I embrace myself. She said, “A great work of literature must be affirmative, and affirm human life and human beings.”
You couldn’t tell that to French existentialist Jean Paul Sartre, who famously wrote, L'enfer, c'est les autres” or “Hell is [the] others.”: often rendered, “Hell is just – other people.”
Yet I don’t think that makes sense. It’s a long discussion,and one for another time. Human beings are the source of art, the subject of art, the consumers of art, the raison d’être. The more recent cycle of condemning human beings and human nature serves no purpose. We look to art for something like inspiration, blended we hope with knowledge, insight and pleasure. I believe Mrs, Randolph would agree that great art has the effect of ennobling us, or can. Certainly when we listen to a Beethoven symphony or look at a Michelangelo painting, we are uplifted and see the greatness of human beings.
She knew that many of us might never, or almost never, take another English course or course in art or music. She wanted to give us an appreciation that would last a lifetime.
Mrs. Randolph was at all times gracious. She was a pleasure to talk to, and like these other wonderful teachers, she was great listener. She seemed excited by teenagers learning, and in my class there were lots of spectacular young people.
She also had wonderful natural dignity, and I don’t mean anything at all like conceit, or pomposity, or snobbery. She was a women who respected herself and others, which is a quality devoutly to be wish’t. Again, she carried that bearing lightly. She was easy going and relaxed.
I’ve remembered Mrs. Randolph vividly and with affection all my life. She has had a big influence on me, as much as a human being as anything else.