By Lyonel Doherty
Their love story was straight out of a John Hughes movie.
Darlene and Lindsay Abbie were new teachers at Southern Okanagan Secondary School in 1989, and it just so happened that their classrooms were across from each other.
Because they were single and the youngest teachers on staff, their students decided to play cupid. For example, they would innocently take audio-visual equipment from Darlene’s classroom and put it in Lindsay’s room so that she would have to fetch it and hopefully flirt with her future husband.
“We didn’t know what was going on (but it worked),” Darlene recalled.
Now, after nearly 30 years at SOSS, the Abbies are saying goodbye to the school that has truly defined them.
“We’re both feeling content . . . at peace. This place has been our identity, but we’ve got to walk away and let new blood in,” Darlene said.
“We didn’t want to go out old and grumpy,” she continued, while Lindsay followed up with,” We didn’t want to have that disconnect with the students.”
Another deciding factor was Lindsay’s heart attack in December of 2016, which was a scary wakeup call for both of them.
Hitting the rewind button, Darlene reminisced about her youth in Kelowna, where she thought a veterinary career was her chosen path. But after working a summer job cleaning out animal cages at a local clinic, she changed her mind. The unfortunate death of some of the animals was too much to bear.
Her career path changed when she became inspired by her French teacher, Miss Schulting at Kelowna Secondary School. (Ironically, Schulting’s brother is Steve Schulting, the computer wiz at SOSS.)
Lindsay was born in Montreal and moved to Vancouver as a teenager.
He was not a fan of school at all and didn’t find any motivation in the classroom. It also didn’t help that there was animosity towards English students in Quebec.
“I was never going to be a teacher . . . I was so happy to get out of school,” Lindsay said.
His plan was to start a career in radio but that didn’t pan out, so he began coaching youth softball and soccer. He really enjoyed the connection with the kids, and after that, something “clicked” and he saw the importance of education.
Lindsday was hired to replace a veteran teacher at SOSS and began imparting his wisdom on his students.
Not long after the cupid project, the Abbies got married and started a family – a boy (Keegan) and a girl (Mallory) whom they taught in the school. And no, their kids did not receive special treatment.
“They will tell you there was no favouritism, and they knew not to take advantage of it,” Lindsay said.
The Abbies had their bit of fame when the CBC reported that they took their students on their honeymoon. Now that’s dedication . . . well, let us explain.
The school applied and was chosen for a student exchange program with Fort Erie in Ontario as part of Canada 125. So the Abbies went to Niagara Falls for their honeymoon … with 25 kids.
Another memory forever etched in Darlene’s mind was the time the school pulled a prank on student teacher Spencer McKay. This is when his father, Roger McKay, was vice-principal. Geography teacher Ian Gibson was in on it too.
Because Darlene appeared so young at the time, she pretended to be a really “bad” student in Spencer’s class. For example, she would cheat on a test or pick an argument with a fellow student.
“We wanted to see how he dealt with the trauma,” said Darlene, who was eventually hauled off to Roger’s office for her transgressions.
One time she conspicuously passed a note around in Spencer’s class. It read: “Spencer McKay is sexy.” He intercepted the note (without reading it yet) and said he was going to read it out loud in hopes to embarrass this naughty pupil.
But when he opened it, he changed his mind and didn’t repeat what the note said. It was priceless.
While Lindsay has squirreled away many memorable moments at SOSS, one of his most profound came just last week. He referred to his “challenging” Grade 11 class where he made some of his students write the final – an initially punitive measure that turned into a second chance.
“It was a two-hour exam and the boys didn’t like it, but at the end they shook my hand. I thought, oh my gosh, I just witnessed these adolescents become adults.”
During their teaching careers at SOSS, the Abbies have seen many changes in disciplinary outcomes, attitudes and emotional well-being.
Both acknowledge that anxiety is a big issue among students today. Lindsay said anxiety is a normal, necessary part of life, but kids have to find the right mechanism to cope with it.
“Kids are struggling to find out who they are.”
Believe it or not, Darlene does not own a cell phone and does not do Facebook. But unlike some adults, she doesn’t see youth as social misfits because they bury their faces in their phones. They are learning a lot more than you think, she said.
Grade 12 student Marlysse Trampf has had Darlene as a teacher since Grade 8.
“I’ve always admired her candidness and sense of humour,” she said.
“Despite not always being the best student, she never became upset with me and would always just roll with the punches of whatever a student threw at her.”
Trampf said Mrs. Abbie not only taught her how to (kind of) speak French, but how to tackle life with courage and comicality.
Mr. Abbie taught Trampf what she referred to as the “infamously difficult” Grade 12 English course.
“He had a certain way of teaching where he would get into people’s minds, often playing the devil’s advocate in order to get us to debate with him.”
Trampf noted that Mr. Abbie prompted students to question the way they think and perceive the world, a task only the best are capable of.
“Mr. Abbie made me realize why I am passionate about English all over again, and for that I am infinitely grateful.”
Trampf had a heavy heart saying goodbye to the Abbies.
“I felt rather melancholy looking up at the wall of retired teachers to see the Abbies smiling back at me.”
As the Abbies took care of last minute details before leaving, their classrooms were empty like a deserted nest in autumn. A lone student sat outside her locker in the hallway, and a maintenance man worked quietly on a ladder.
“We’re going to miss the mass humanity here,” Darlene said. “We might be quite lonely.”
So what now?
Definitely a bit of travel and spending time with the kids.
“I want to read a book . . . not because I have to,” Darlene said.
But don’t be surprised if you hear that she’s substituting for a teacher in Kelowna.
He wants to continue experimenting with video projects. But he doesn’t want to lose that connection with students, so he’ll likely be a teacher on call as well.
Old passions die hard.