(Washington Post) – Nearly everyone who crossed paths with Spanish teacher Annis Creese — students, colleagues, her nieces and nephews, even the man who drove the bus she took to work — could feel her warmth, which she projected so strongly that some of the kids she taught called her “Mom.”
But not everyone knew her story: the incredible odds she beat to get from St. Vincent and the Grenadines, where she was born to a domestic worker, to a classroom in Hyattsville, Md.
The toughness that helped her survive an impoverished childhood, a military coup and raising two children on her own.
Creese, who was in her final year of teaching Spanish at Northwestern High, died Sunday at age 73 from complications of the novel coronavirus.
She is the second educator at Northwestern High and the third school employee in Prince George’s County to die from the virus.
Creese left behind two grown children and the hundreds of students who passed through her classroom at the Hyattsville high school over her 25 years there.
“Ms. Creese was a wonderful colleague and an amazing person,” Principal E. Carlene Murray said in a statement. “Her warm smile welcomed everyone to Northwestern High School. … She was a beautiful woman whose light made all of our lives brighter.”
It’s unclear how Creese contracted the virus. Her daughter said she took public buses to get around and had gone to the supermarket.
But as the pandemic crests in parts of the United States, students are grappling with the loss of teachers and other educators, despite their schools being shuttered to slow the virus’s spread.
Creese was born in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Her mother sent her to live in Trinidad and Tobago with relatives, who discouraged Creese from studying, her family said.
She fell in love with school, even though she frequently had to do her homework by candlelight because her family shut off the lights to save electricity.
“She had all these obstacles in her way when it came to getting her education and she still prevailed at the end,” said her daughter, Michelle Hyland.
Creese continued to teach even as she battled health problems. Her kidneys began failing about eight years ago. A car wreck and worsening vision forced her to abandon driving, so she rose early and took two buses to and from work every day.
At school one day, a gregarious student ran to give her a hug and bowled her over, causing an arm injury she never fully recovered from. But she kept returning to the classroom.
“She always talked about how being a teacher was so rewarding to her,” Michelle Hyland said.
Last month, Creese put in her papers to retire at the end of this school year. But she did not want to leave the profession entirely. She planned to open a tutoring business in her home and hoped to substitute teach.
“She was very passionate about her job,” her daughter said. “She was eager to work.”