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Emily (Teacher) Redley Powery Biography
A pioneer in early education, the late Emily Redley Powery, better known as “Teacher Redley” was a spiritual lady, inspired by a double mission: Service to God, and ensuring that children were educated and properly prepared for life.
One of eight children of the late Andrew and Judy Powery of West Bay, she lived from 1892 to 1970. Her life span bridged from the era often romanticized as the islands time forgot into Cayman’s earliest days of rapid development and her life’s work made its contribution to many who lived through this transition. “Teacher Redley” was a shaper of character and an educator in the academic sense.
Although they were simpler times, during her formative years, life in Cayman was often filled with the hardships associated with the absence of modern conveniences. During these times opportunities beyond the traditional role of homemaker were very limited for a young woman. Despite that, her outlook remained optimistic and even at an early age she developed a vision for a brighter future not only for herself, but for the coming generations whom she would one day teach.
For her dedication, compassion and sacrifice, as well as her profound impact on so many lives, “Teacher Redley” is owed much.
Having committed her life to serve Christ at a young age, she became a founding member of the Church of God Full Gospel Hall. Her devotion to her faith led to her delivering sermons, teaching Bible lessons, and serving as a church superintendent.
Recognizing a particular need in her community, “Teacher Redley” started a private school for young children, giving lessons in the home of relatives on the seaside along King Road in Boatswain Bay. She later relocated her school to a small building near the Boatswain Bay Lighthouse and finally to the Rose Gardens, or Old Bush area.
An independent, determined and stern spirit, “Teacher Redley” was passionate in her belief that preparing her students to function properly in society, required equal focus on the mind and spirit. The Bible for her was a primary textbook, constant companion and main point of reference.
Religious lessons were incorporated into the basic ‘Three R’s’ curriculum and morning devotions, including the singing of hymns, were standard in her classroom, which held up to 30 pupils of all ages sitting on wooden benches, or even on the floor.
Those seeds of faith, respect, discipline and knowledge which she planted and watered, continue to flourish in her former students who quite proudly acknowledge the profound impact these foundation years had on their lives. Some recall the importance placed on manners and personal hygiene, and how “Teacher Redley” rigorously drummed into them the need for both.
In “Teacher Redley’s” strict regime, misbehaviour was not tolerated and she did not shy away from applying corporal punishment for those who required it. Indeed, her diminutive figure belied a strong character which commanded the respect of students, parents and the entire community.
However, her tough exterior concealed a warm and compassionate heart, evident in the recollections of her students. Some reminisced how “Teacher Redley” would often supplement her pupils’ sparse lunches with porridge she cooked herself, or divide up her own Johnny-cake amongst those who had nothing to eat and kept smoke-pans going all day to protect them from mosquitoes.
For “Teacher Redley”, it was the mission of shaping lives through education that counted most and never about what it cost her. “Teacher Redley” remained single her entire life, and had no children of her own but it seemed she needed none, for she apparently regarded all her students as her adoptive children.
Outside of school, her life was devoted to acts of service. Her work and influence extended beyond West Bay and into the eastern districts, where she was known and loved by many. Whether on foot, bicycle or even by catboat, she would venture out to spread God’s word and to educate those around her.
In the 1940s, “Teacher Redley” traveled to Jamaica to pursue further education and also practiced there as a teacher briefly, before returning to Cayman as a professional teacher.
While many of her students went on to continue their education at the West Bay Town Hall, (built in 1939), and then at John A. Cumber Primary School, (opened in 1968), there are many whose only formal education was received at her school.
It is surely fitting that the West Bay Library and Learning Centre be named for Emily “Teacher Redley” Powery, a pioneer who shaped the minds, spirits and characters of several generations, and who for so many decades, remained in the vanguard of educational progress.
Last Updated: 2010-01-21
Capt. Ertis Ebanks
Julia Christian - Background on Teacher Redley and the School
Julia Christian - Classroom Life & Disciplline
Julia Christian - Getting Ready For School
Julia Christian - School Lunch