Monday, June 30, 2008

The queen is dead. Long live her memory.

Connie Shillingburg died this weekend. She was a red-headed spitfire who taught history and English in several schools. We met at Edmond Memorial High School when I was a student teacher. I was fortunate enough to work with her and share the same book club, but I was most fortunate to call her a friend.

She inspired me. I loved that she loved traveling, reading, and laughing. Before she retired I asked her what she wanted to do post-high school. Aside from spending time with her grandchildren and traveling, I don't remember any other solid plans. She had always had fun in the classroom and dressed up in costume. I suggested she come to my English classes as Queen Elizabeth I. After all, she knew the history and shared a lot in common with the matriarch. Both ladies were witty, bullheaded, and highly intelligent. For several years, she visited my classroom and others. Among other tales, she regaled us with nursery rhymes about Queen Elizabeth and phrases we use today that originated in Elizabethan times. She made the queen real and made the people of her time--including Shakespeare--that much more attainable. For a couple of years I ran a Renaissance Festival for the ninth grade with the help of Creative Writing Club and Shakespeare classes. The queen reigned at the event. My ninth graders always seemed to be a little in awe of her. Even the representative sent to determine if our school was a Blue Ribbon School was enchanted by her. The woman had a list of classes to observe, but when she came to mine Connie was there, so she stayed for most of the hour!

Connie added to her repertoire and traveled around the country as Queen Elizabeth, Queen Victoria, and most recently Lydie Marland. (I think she impersonated another great lady or two as well.) In 2006 I had the pleasure of co-writing and performing a short play with her. I played the ghost of Mary Queen of Scots, and she played an Elizabeth I on her deathbed. Not only were our costumes spectacular, but also it was a good time. For Oklahoma's Centennial celebration, she conjured Lydie Marland. I wrote a feature article for Distinctly Oklahoma. Working with Connie was always a pleasure.

She is missed.

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