Joan Bedinger (1939-2008): My Mentor


And now for something completely different…

I found out last week that my mentor, teacher, and friend Joan Bedinger passed away. Joan was my high school drama teacher from 1982-1986 and my friend and mentor after that. While we drifted apart over the years, Joan was never far from my thoughts. So, how does this fit into my blog about bullying?

High School ended the period of my life where I was picked on. But after years and years of it, I had developed a stand-offish personality. My sister had joined the drama group in high school and I was introduced to Joan when I was in 8th grade by my sister. She could not stop talking about her and how great she was.

One day, after school I walked from the Middle School to the High School. I went in to the drama classroom and Joan, or Ms. B as she was better known during those day, immediately greated me and said that my sister had told her all about me. She made me feel special and welcome. She asked me if I was going to take drama next year. Before that “moment” I hadn’t thought about it. But after the visit, I decided to sign up.

The next year I started drama. I knew very quickly I had found my group. I don’t want to say they were like me. Certainly there were some shared traits. We didn’t talk about whether we had all gotten picked on. It wasn’t like that. It was more about the fact that, this group accepted all who came to them. There was no popularity contest. There was no bullying in the group. You could be who you wanted to be.

But, better than that, there was Ms. B, who treated 14-18 year old like adults. Who gave us opportunities to excel and encouragement to do more than we thought possible. I saw this person take people who were shy, and turn them into extroverts on stage. I saw her put teams of drama people together and create fast friendships with memories and “moments” that last a lifetime. I saw her take the young man I was, and make him forget about his bully days. Make him believe that he could be liked, he could be successful, that he was talented, and that he could do anything he wants. She made me who I am through her teaching, mentoring, and friendship. I wouldn’t be in the career I am today in video and media. I wouldn’t be a confident person without her mentorship.

At age 14 I was building sets for “You Can’t Take It With You”. Then at 15, I was starring in “The Wiz” as a character she allowed me to make up. She directed me, but trusted me 100% and asked me to take chances. When I was 17, she asked me to be the assistant director to her for Mame. When Ms. B asked you to be the assistant director, she was really asking you to be the director. I recall those days clearly, sitting next to Ms. B and learning about how to lead a team to success. How to make people feel confident when they doubted themselves. How to make people forget about bad times and escape into the acting world and use their past “moments” to bring up their feelings through acting.

At the end of that production, Joan gave me a gift. She gave me a silver cup with the inscription that said “My Right Hand”. There is nothing I have received over the years that has affected me more than that cup and those words. I don’t think to this day, Joan Bedinger knew the full impact she had on the lives of those who were students under her. She changed many lives and certainly took me away from those days of bullying and brought me into what my life could become.

Even though I hadn’t seen Joan in almost 10 years, she was never far from my thoughts. Two days before her passing I was talking to my mother about wanting to visit her. Two days before. My mom actually called me to tell her she saw the obit in the paper and that it was ironic that it was two days prior that I was talking about Joan. 22 years after my high school graduation and I still talk about Joan. I told my kids about her passing. I told them that one of my wishes for them is that they are lucky enough to have a teacher that is their mentor and friend as well. I think out of all the things I wish for them right now, that is one of the most important to me.

 The “moments” that Joan Bedinger gave me in my life will always be near the front of my mind as I continue forward with this life that she helped me mold.

Joan Bedinger (1939-2008)

 

 

Joan Bedinger ( 1939-2008 )

11 thoughts on “Joan Bedinger (1939-2008): My Mentor

  1. Well said, your article about Joan. I am another of her changed lives, was in fact her “assistant” director for my Senior Class musical, “The Pajama Game” – in 1968! She made us all better people. And yes, her legacy and memory lived on LONG after we lost contact. Thanks for your memories.

  2. and yet, Terri, we know that if anyone can carry the legacy forward, it will be you.

    Ms. B was one of a kind. How blessed we were to have her in our lives; if only everyone in the world had a “Ms. B.” to instinctively know how to challenge you to be better than you ever hoped you could be.

  3. Mrs.B was an inpired and inspiring woman who was blessed to find her Grand Passion in theatre. In passing on her love of Character development and storytelling via the stage drama to us, her students, she also taught us that everyone has a place, everyone has something to offer, there are no “duds” where people are concerned. Mrs.B had the gift of being able to look inside each of us and see the individual talents we each had as well being able to pull it out of us – sometimes with great effort on her part – and place it in the light for all to see and appreciate. There was no scoffing or belittling in her classroom. All were expected to respect and accept everyone as she did. And we did.

    Many times over the years I have thought of contacting Mrs.B to talk to her about my Drama Experience with her and go over what I had done, or not done, or would have changed. I saw her a few times after I graduated when I went back to WTW to see a production. I’d always go back stage to say hello and she would say – “I knew youwere here becuase I could hear your laugh.” [I have a very distinct, full belly-laugh that I inherited from my father.] That always made me feel good: knowing she remembered my laughter.

    Thank you for this forum to express our thought on this wonderful woman. I was at the Memorial service last Sunday but did not speak. I didn;t think I had anything to say. But since that day I seem to be full of memories and words that I wish I had been able to articulate to that special group that gathered on June 15th, 2008.

    Thank you. Maggie Lawson, Arlington VA [1975-1978]

  4. This is the first that I’ve heard that Joan died. I’m very sad to hear it. Joan was my brother’s first wife. For years she was like a big sister to me. I was with her when she went to Woodson for the first time for an interview. After they divorced, I never heard from Joan again. I looked her up once at Woodson, but she never got back to me. She was someone I loved and admired very much. Thank you for the lovely post. BTW, as a Certified Parent Educator and Early Childhood Development Specialist, I am very interested in bullying. I’ll be back.

  5. Ms. B was one of the most unique individuals I have ever known. I was her student in the early 1970’s — enjoyed “The Serpent” experience and “Funny Girl”, etc… The first time I heard her name I was 10 years old and went to Woodson to see a production of Pajama Story — then West Side Story. I was already stagestruck, but the anticipation of being in her class and taking part in her amazing productions kept me going. It was just a magical time and I love her dearly for it. I saw her a few time after high school and then, fortunately, called and had a nice long talk with her in 2001. She gave me a special perspective on life that I treasure to this day.

    • I was thinking about my Woodson days this evening and happened to search you, and came across this. I still have a cassette tape of you singing My Man in Funny Girl.

  6. I was her student in 1967 and 1968, and I think I was a dancer in the Pajama Game. I had a big part in The Bat. I was so impressed with her sophistication and Egyptian-eye make-up. I adored her, too. She helped me through a difficult time in my life. I went on to become a drama major at Auburn University; nothing else was as exciting. I later became an elementary teacher, but often had an after-school drama club. I give Mrs. Bedinger all the credit for the joy and confidence she brought into my life through drama. I called her when I was in my forties to ask her about taking a drama teaching job, and she was so supportive. I am now 61, retired, and know she was a major player in my life. God bless.

    • There are so many of us that think about Ms. B. and the difference she had on our lives. Currently one of her students is the drama teacher at Woodson and we talk all the time still. I often wonder what I would have been had I not met Ms. B. and that Drama class. Thanks for writing.

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