By Janice Beetle ’85
Caroline “Lee” Blair ’57, M’78, had a teacher in third grade who was so passionate and enthusiastic, Blair couldn’t help but develop a love of learning. “She inspired me to become a teacher,” she says. “I love learning to this day.”
A lifelong resident of Westfield, Blair had parents who also fueled her passion for knowledge; they had attended school only until they were needed to work to help provide for the family. They supported Blair and her siblings in school, and they taught the children to speak Italian.
When Blair enrolled at Westfield State, becoming the first person in her family to attend college, her father was extremely proud. “In his eyes, becoming a teacher was close to attaining the presidency,” Blair says.
While in college, Blair held a job that enabled her to pay her tuition of $25 per year. She earned a bachelor’s degree in English—and later, a master’s in early education, also at Westfield State. She also met her late husband, Ernest, as an undergrad.
Blair was in the first class of students who attended courses and graduated from the Westfield State campus we know today; in her early years, she attended classes in the downtown campus in a building now serving as Westfield City Hall. “I still go there to pay bills,” she says. “It brings back wonderful memories.”
After spending 32 years at the head of the classroom, teaching children who ranged in age from kindergarteners to second graders, Blair retired in 1997. She then spent many years helping her daughter raise her child. Now, she has fewer responsibilities and has returned to the Westfield State classroom. In the spring of 2019, Blair joined Mary Keator, Ph.D.’s World Literature course to learn an African story with African dance guest teachers Marilyn and Sekou Sylla. Last fall, Blair once again entered the classroom, this time participating in Dr. Keator’s Composition 101 course.
“I’m getting to meet wonderful students who are full of ideas. They’re making me see the world in a new light. They’re bright and committed to what they’re doing. It’s wonderful to sit with them,” Blair says, adding, “Dr. Keator has an amazing way of pulling out from everyone the things that are most important.”
The following are excerpts from a recent interview with Blair.
What did you value most about Westfield Stateas a student?
It was a very warm community of about 65 students back then. I remember the professors for whom many of the campus buildings are named and the effect they had on my life. The campus today is beautiful. It makes me proud that I went there.
How did your Westfield State education impact your life and career?
It impacted the way I treated my children in school. I never wanted them to feel left out of anything or to lack self-confidence. I tried in my teaching career to build them up. I can’t remember anybody at Westfield State—any of the faculty—who made me feel that I wasn’t good enough or smart enough.
Why do you give to Westfield State?
Westfield State is a part of who I am. It helped shape me. Both of my grandsons, Michael and Joshua Blair, graduated from the University in the classes of 2010 and 2012, respectively. Their mother, my daughter-in-law, Pamela Blair, did too, in 2009. When I went to Westfield State, everyone became a teacher. Now there are nursing, criminal justice, and many more. I like the idea that I can somehow have a part in the growth.
This poem was written by Caroline Blair in Dr. Mary Keator’s Composition 101 course.
Where have I put my apron?
Is it hidden away? Given away?
Still in a drawer? Forgotten?
A beautiful apron.
A tattered or torn apron.
One and the same.
Full apron, half apron, plain or silk.
Stirring memories of happy days spent cooking, cleaning, serving.
Will I ever wear an apron again?
Haven’t worn one in a long time.
My sister Chris made me an apron for Christmas long ago.
Where is it? Did I give it away?
Not all is clear in my mind!
Do I need an apron now to serve?
No, I think not!