There was an abundance of praise, admiration and love directed toward Providence High School French teacher Linda Wyatt, who bid au revoir during a retirement luncheon and sendoff Sunday afternoon at Taix restaurant in Los Angeles.
Her 44 years of service to the school brought together students, teachers, alumni, co-workers and people of different backgrounds to celebrate the career of a school icon.
The former Burbank resident, who began her tenure in 1974 fresh out of UCLA, drew eventgoers from Taiwan to Seattle, with memories and stories ranging from the 1970s to last year.
About 70 people said “thank you,” presented gifts and generally overwhelmed the veteran teacher with appreciation.
“Oh, my goodness, this means so much for me I think I’m going to start crying,” Wyatt said. “It’s a great way to put closure to that chapter to my life and, of course, Providence has always been my second family, so this is wonderful.”
Wyatt was the pillar of the school’s world languages department, which offers courses in Spanish, French, Latin and Mandarin.
In 1994, Wyatt was named a Los Angeles Times Teacher of the Year, has led dozens of class trips to France and held several prominent positions in the high school’s French National Honor Society.
“She inspired the French language to so many kids at a time when French was kind of leaving schools,” said Joe Sciuto, Providence’s head of school. “The reason it stayed at Providence is Linda Wyatt, and her legacy will keep it here.”
Maybe no person was better suited to speak to the total Wyatt experience than Providence instructor Marisa Paolone, a former Wyatt student who also attended a trip to France with her mentor in the summer of 1996.
“We’ve been colleagues for 14 years, and I think a lot of Linda has rubbed off on me as far as how I teach,” Paolone said. “She’s full of life and, no matter what could be happening to her personally, she’s always smiling and laughing. She loved her subject matter and it came out in how she taught every day.”
While Providence only requires two years of language classes for graduation, many students studied for four years, in part, because of Wyatt’s influence.
“She taught me a lot about French language and culture,” said Analy Mejia, who graduated in 2010, attended the Los Angeles Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising and now works as a design coordinator.
“I really enjoyed just being in her class and I took four years. I just wanted to keep learning more and I loved the atmosphere. It was so fun,” Mejia added.
Sisters Mary Hawkins, Lucille Dean and Barbara Schamber, members of the Roman Catholic religious order the Sisters of Providence, traveled from Seattle for the festivities. All had worked with Wyatt throughout her time at Providence.
Though a former Providence principal, Dean wasn’t directly involved in Wyatt’s hiring. Nonetheless she shared an anecdote about the application process.
“The principal at the time had many candidates,” Dean said. “She asked Linda, ‘Why should I hire you with all the candidates I have?’ Linda responded, ‘Because I’ll be the best French teacher you ever had.’ And it was true. It was so true.”
Wyatt credits her love of French to her own language instructor at Milne High School in Albany, N.Y.
Wyatt’s retirement party was almost a year in the making as she completed her 44th year at the conclusion of the 2016-17 school calendar and then missed the following year for medical reasons.
“I think the planning started during the middle of last school year,” Sciuto said. “Linda had made the decision at that point that she was not coming back and we knew it had to be a major celebration.”
One thing Wyatt said she will miss is the international trips.