Memorial Service: Mme Lalonde

[Mme Lalonde spoke without notes, so we don't have the full text of her speech, but here are some of her stories, as we remember them.]

I first met Caia when she was in grade 10. Gloucester High School had started a special program for the gifted. Those of us who were selected to teach that class were a little worried; we didn't know what to expect. Would they already know everything? Would they know more than we did? So it was with more than the usual trepidation that I went into my gifted history classroom. I had written on the blackboard "Man is born free, but everywhere he is in chains" -- I thought this might start an interesting little discussion. Then I heard a voice, somewhere over to the left, say "Well, that's a bit stupid." Actually, I think she said "Well, that's stupid." So I babbled something about it being Jean-Jacques Rousseau, an eighteenth-century philosopher and leader of the Enlightenment. And I think I was saved by the bell. When I was leaving school that day, I met our brilliant principal, and told him my little story, and he said, "Don't question conclusions -- question premises." And I thought, "Well, this is a lively questioning mind -- isn't that what we're supposed to be encouraging?" So the next day I said "Caia," -- I had made sure to learn her name -- "Caia, why do you think that is stupid?" And thus began a conversation that never really ended.

I also taught Latin to the gifted class, and I asked each of them to prepare a presentation about some aspect of Roman life -- not about grammar, about daily life. When Caia's turn came, she went up to the front, and said "I am now going to show you long multiplication using Roman numerals." She proceeded to cover 3 panels of the blackboard with Ms and Cs and Xs and Vs, while the class roared with laughter. I wish I could remember how she handled the 0, but I can't. You know, we teachers roll out sentences like "The adoption of the Arabic number system was a huge improvement", but we don't illustrate why -- and when I saw those three panels of multiplication, I knew I was in the presence of a born teacher.

In grade 12 history, we were talking about Napoleon, and his success on the battlefield -- and I said that one of the reasons for his success was the element of surprise -- his troops marched faster than the standard for infantry at the time, so he showed up unexpectedly in places. A day or two later, Caia came to class and said "Madame! I have been researching this. I have established the standard rate for foot soliders at the time, and the rate at which Napoleon's soldiers marched. And I think we should test it out. I've brought my metronome from home, and I propose that we march to the tower and back at the standard rate, and then at the Napoleonic rate, and check the times." And so, of course, we did. The whole class set off through the halls, marching at the standard rate, Caia leading with the metronome, someone timing us, through the halls to the tower and back. We collected some pretty peculiar looks, not only from the students, but from other staff -- "What on earth are they doing up there in history?" And then we repeated the whole trip at the Napoleonic pace, and I think we saved 90 seconds, or something like that.

Another time, we were discussing the 1920s, and again I had asked the class to make presentations. Caia's presentation was about the popularity of spiritualism in the 20s, seances and such, and she linked this to the horrendous loss of young lives in the First World War. She spoke of Arthur Conan Doyle and his longing to reconnect with his son who was killed in the war. But, being Caia, she had brought in a Ouija board, and we all had a turn at turning tables, or whatever it is called.

Time moves on, and students leave; they grow up and go on to other things. It was with great sorrow that I learned that Caia was so ill. I went to see her in St Luc Hospital in 2004 -- she wasn't very well that day, but we talked. She had started her studies in demography, and I asked her what her particular interest was, and she said "women in their 30s." Questioned further she said that "women in their 30s want the careers that their fathers had, and the families that their mothers had." Have you ever heard it said more clearly, more succinctly? Just a week or so ago, there was an article in the newspaper about a study reporting that young women were more stressed than young men, but they didn't know why. Well, I thought, Caia could tell them.