Sunday, 8 January 2017

Gwyneth's lost wings

Fifty-three years ago, these little butterflies were carefully collected, and their identifying labels were completed in tiny, meticulous handwriting.

A few weeks ago, I found them, dusty and broken in a glass jar in a Greyabbey antique shop. The writing is so small that I couldn't read it until I'd taken photographs of the little collection. On my laptop screen, the name of the writer was clear, and it rang a bell.

I texted my parents, who immediately remembered Gwyneth Gotto, my mum's inspirational biology teacher at Methody, and her husband Viv, zoology lecturer at Queen's and a world-class tennis player. 

Viv's career was impressive and is well documented, but it was Gwyneth who interested me more.

Gwyneth was the sort of teacher that all of us in education would aspire to be - hugely enthusiastic, unconventional in her practical trousers, pushing her students to question and challenge accepted ideas, encouraging the strengths of every individual. She loved her subject so much that she spent her 1947 honeymoon running a holiday field course at the marine biology centre in Portaferry. But most of all she loved to communicate her enthusiasm for biology to each pupil she taught. 

More than sixty years later, my mum can remember specific things Mrs Gotto said to her, word for word, encouraging, knowledgeable and humorous.

A legacy as excellent as this little collection is touching. Something to aim for.

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