Associated Press file photo
Associated Press file photo
LOS ANGELES – Rose Gilbert wanted to be a schoolteacher since she was in the first grade and was inspired by the teacher who taught her to read and write.
Gilbert carried out that childhood dream with a rare commitment – she retired last week at the age of 94 after a 63-year teaching career in the Los Angeles Unified School District.
“I’m going to be 95. I looked in the mirror and said, ‘I better do it now before I get too old,’” she joked. “I didn’t want to leave, but I didn’t want to be carried out on a stretcher.”
It’s unclear if Gilbert is the oldest fulltime classroom teacher among the nation’s teaching corps of more than 3 million, but she certainly ranks among the most senior. She started teaching in the 1940s, took a break and then returned in 1956.
In 1961, she joined the staff at the brand new high school opening in the well-heeled Pacific Palisades section of Los Angeles and remained there until Feb. 22, passing along her passion for poetry and literature to generations of students. Some of her former students are now teachers at Palisades Charter High School, who say she’ll be sorely missed.
“She is utterly unique,” said English teacher Holly Korbonski, who had Gilbert as her English teacher in 1978. “We’re all sort of bereft, honestly.”
Korbonski remembers Gilbert customizing reading lists for each student. She assigned Korbonski to read The Great Gatsby, among other works. The F. Scott Fitzgerald novel is now Korbonski’s specialty.
“She was prophetic,” Korbonski said. “Her gifts to students continue to grow and magnify through life.”
Some of Gilbert’s fondest memories date from the 1960s, when a spirit of rebellion was rife at high school and college campuses across the country. In one protest she recalled, students and teachers declared a strike and walked out to protest U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War.
Another demonstration occurred over a reason that was another sign of those heady times: the length of boys’ hair.
“We had a very strict principal and he said all the boys had to cut their hair or be suspended,” she recalled. “All of them were suspended, and we all walked out – students and teachers.”
Today’s kids are more self-centered, said Gilbert, whose students call her “Mama G.” She calls her students her “bubbelahs.”
“It’s the entitlement generation,” she said. “‘I’m entitled to an A, I’m entitled to go to Harvard.’ I think it emanates from their parents.”
Still, it was the love of children that kept Gilbert teaching through the years, even when her wealthy developer husband died in 1987 and left her a fortune.
Sam Gilbert was an unbridled devotee of the UCLA men’s basketball program whose influence on players caused the NCAA to order the team to disassociate from him in 1981. He died four days before he was indicted on federal racketeering and money-laundering charges in connection with his business activities.
Rose Gilbert has plowed much money back into education. She funds scholarships for high school and college students and has donated a pool complex, auditorium and small theater to the high school.
Her retirement promises to be as active – she’s volunteering at a health clinic and a domestic violence shelter, and plans to keep her hand in education by interviewing high school and college students for scholarships and honors programs.
“I have loads of energy,” Gilbert said. “I want to devote it to good causes.”