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Decades Later, Student Finds Teacher To Say 'Thank You'

John Cruitt reunited with his third-grade teacher, Cecile Doyle, to tell her about the impact she had on him as he coped with his mother's death. (StoryCorps)

John Cruitt, 62, spent decades tracking down his third-grade teacher.

He wanted to talk with Cecile Doyle about 1958 — the year his mother, who was seriously ill with multiple sclerosis, passed away.

Her death came just days before Christmas. Cruitt had been expecting to go home from school and decorate the Christmas tree.

"But I walked into the living room, and my aunt was there, and she said, 'Well, honey, Mommy passed away this morning.' "

Cruitt remembers seeing his teacher, Doyle, at his mother's wake.

"When I found out she died, I could certainly relate to that, because when I was 11, my own father died," Doyle tells Cruitt at StoryCorps in Monroe, N.Y. "And you just don't know how you're going to go on without that person."

When Cruitt returned to school, Doyle waited until all of the other children left the room at the end of the day, and told him that she was there if he needed her.

"Then you bent over and kissed me on the head. It was really the only time someone said to me, 'I know what you're feeling, and I know what you're missing,' " Cruitt says. "And I felt, in a very real way, that things really would be OK."

"Well, John, I really loved you as a student, and I'm so glad that I could be there with you for that time," says Doyle, 82.

Decades after his mother's death, when Cruitt became a teacher himself, he began to think more and more of Doyle.

"And I started to think to myself, here I am, with a memory of a teacher who changed my life, and I've never told her that," he says.

So, that's when he finally wrote a letter:

Dear Mrs. Doyle,

If you are not the Cecile Doyle who taught English at Emerson School in Kearny, N.J., then I'm embarrassed, and you can disregard the sentiments that follow.

My name is John Cruitt, and I was in your third-grade class during the 1958-1959 school year. Two days before Christmas, my mother passed away, and you told me that you were there if I needed you. I hope life has been as kind to you as you were to me.

God bless you, always. With great fondness,

John

Doyle says his letter, which arrived in February, could have not come at a better time. Her husband, who passed away this August, was struggling with Parkinson's disease.

"And I had just come home from the hospital, and I read this beautiful letter, and I just was overwhelmed," she says.

"Well the funny thing is, when I finally wrote to you again after 54 years, I typed the letter — I was afraid my penmanship wasn't going to meet your standards," Cruitt says as Doyle laughs.

"Well, after all this time, Mrs. Doyle, all I can say to you is ... thank you."

"John, what can I say — I'm just glad that we made a difference in each other's life."

Audio produced for Morning Edition by Katie Simon with Michael Garofalo.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

And on this last Friday of 2012, it is time for Storycorps, recording conversations about the most important moments in our lives. Today, we hear from John Cruitt and his third grade teacher, Cecile Doyle. John tracked down Mrs. Doyle decades after he was in her class. The former student and teacher talked about 1958, when John's mother, who was seriously ill, died shortly before Christmas.

JOHN CRUITT: We talked about decorating the Christmas tree when I came home from school that day. But I walked into the living room, and my aunt was there, and she said, well, honey, Mommy passed away this morning. And I remember at my mother's wake, someone in my family came to me and said, Johnny, your teacher's here.

CECILE DOYLE: When I found out she died, I could certainly relate to that, because when I was 11, my own father died. And you just don't know how you're going to go on without that person.

CRUITT: When I returned to school, you waited until all of the other children left the room at the end of the day, and you told me that you were there if I needed you. And you bent over and kissed me on the head. It was really the only time someone said to me, I know what you're feeling, and I know what you're missing. And I felt, in a very real way, that things really would be OK.

DOYLE: Well, John, I really loved you as a student, and I'm so glad that I could be there with you for that time.

CRUITT: Many years later, when I became a teacher, I started to think more and more about you. And I started to think to myself, here I am, with a memory of a teacher who changed my life, and I've never told her that. And that's why I finally wrote this letter. Dear Mrs. Doyle, if you are not the Cecile Doyle who taught English at Emerson School in Kearny, New Jersey, then I'm embarrassed, and you can disregard the sentiments that follow.

My name is John Cruitt, and I was in your third-grade class during the 1958-1959 school year. Two days before Christmas, my mother passed away, and you told me that you were there if I needed you. I hope life has been as kind to you as you were to me. God bless you, always. With great fondness, John

DOYLE: And your letter could have not come at a better time because my husband had Parkinson's and he was going downhill. And I had just come home from the hospital, and I read this beautiful letter, and I just was overwhelmed.

CRUITT: Well the funny thing is, when I finally wrote to you again after 54 years, I typed the letter. I was afraid my penmanship wasn't going to meet your standards. Well, after all this time, Mrs. Doyle, all I can say to you is, thank you.

DOYLE: John, what can I say? I'm just glad that we made a difference in each other's life.

GREENE: Cecile Doyle with her former third grade student John Cruitt. They recorded their Storycorps interview in Monroe, New York, and it will be archived at the Library of Congress and you can get the Storycorps podcast at npr.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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