Respected teacher had a full life of learning

Sybil Muriel Adams

A phenomenal woman, teacher, community leader, opera singer, social activist and champion for the greater good. This is how Sybil Muriel Adams will be remembered.

Born in District 6 on February 26 1922, the youngest of 13 children, Ms Adams died peacefully at the age of 95, on August 10.

She was best known as a community activist, teacher and for her role as a soprano at the Eoan group.

Despite her humble beginnings, she was academically gifted and excelled at school.

She attended St Philip’s Primary, where she was allowed to skip a grade. Her high school years were spent at Trafalgar High, the first high school for “coloured students of academic promise”.

At Trafalgar she met many prominent South Africans and it is also here where she developed a love and talent for singing.

She completed her teaching diploma in the 1940s at Wesley Teachers Training College, where she also met her husband, Leonard Adams.

Due to apartheid and the turbulent political climate, the young couple wanted to emigrate to Canada but their application was denied.

A passive resistor and activist who was vocal for political change in the country, Ms Adams’ home, due to its proximity to Hewat Teachers College and Alexander Sinton High School, was a place where protesting students could find refuge when they were fleeing from riot police during the apartheid years.

Peggy Hollander, a cousin and former deputy chair of the National Council of Provinces, recalled her as being “someone who never stopped teaching and whom had the gift of discernment”. She was very knowledgeable about the politics of the day and was always keen to enter into a discourse on it.

Mahdie (an established author of Islamic books) and Sharifa Kriel, neighbours of Ms Adams for 37 years, said she was highly respected by her neighbours and she always had something positive to say.

In 1966, at the age of 44, she was tragically widowed. She worked multiple jobs to keep the family going through dark and difficult times.

Education was very important to her and she encouraged her children and grandchildren to pursue higher education which she, due to her race and gender, had beendenied.

In her lounge where she sat every day, is her private “honour wall” of photos of her grandchildren and great-grandchildren’s graduation ceremonies.

Her teaching career spanned 40 years and she retired from Alicedale Primary School in Athlone in 1989.

She chose to remain at the same school where her husband was the deputy principal before his death.

Teaching was her true passion and calling and many of her colleagues and pupils have strong memories of the role she played in shaping their lives.

Gail Rossiter, former principal of Alicedale Primary School paid tribute to Ms Adams, saying that she always admired her strength as a teacher and benefitted from her experience. She did not hesitate to share her expertise and skills. Despite her demanding work and large family, Ms Adams still found time to nurture her passion for music and singing, particularly opera.

She joined the Eoan Group in 1969 and remained a member until the early 1980s.

Under the tutelage of Dr Joseph Manca she performed as a soprano in quite a few operas. La Traviata in which she played the role of Flora, remained her favourite role. The stage was where she was able to show her passionate, creative and daring side.

Ms Adams was a devout Catholic and a leader in her church where she was a member of the Legion of Mary since 1950.

During her years she served on numerous community boards and charities and was one of the founding members in South Africa of Universal Living Rosary Association of St Philomena.

She was a devoted wife and mother who gave her love unconditionally to her 11 children, eight of whom are still alive today, 22 grandchildren, 27 great-grandchildren and seven great-great grandchildren.

She believed in the power of prayer – it was her remedy for everything; her famous words were a “family that prays together, stays together”.

Ms Adams lived a full and rich life and the life lessons she shared, live on in the hearts of those she touched.