Robertha Mellerson Caldwell, 74, city special education teacher

January 31, 2003|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Robertha Mellerson Caldwell, a retired city special education teacher who taught for 27 years at Charles Carroll Barrister Elementary School, died of breast cancer Saturday at Mercy Medical Center. The longtime West Baltimore resident was 74.

In the 2001-2002 school year - the last in her career - she was named the city's teacher of the year.

Robertha Mellerson was born and raised in rural Summerton, S.C., the daughter of sharecroppers.

"She was one of 14 children. ... Even though they were poor, her parents had good values and a strong family," said her daughter, Loretta C. Thompson of Washington. "They gave them a choice - either they could get an education or go work in the fields. She decided to get an education."

After graduating from high school at 14, Mrs. Caldwell earned a bachelor's degree in elementary education in 1946 from Morris College in Sumter, S.C. She later earned a master's degree in elementary and special education from Coppin State College.

She began her teaching career in the late 1940s in a school at St. James African Methodist Episcopal Church in Summerton.

A niece, Jacqueline Caldwell of Baltimore, recalled those early days when Mrs. Caldwell taught a roomful of second-, third- and fourth-graders.

"She taught in an open classroom with two other teachers in the community church. She loved teaching and, more importantly, loved her students," she said.

She moved to Baltimore after her 1952 marriage to Appell Caldwell Jr., who owned Caldwell & Son Inc., a construction company. He died in 1984.

After raising her two children, Mrs. Caldwell returned to work in 1968 as a teaching assistant at Gwynns Falls Junior High School. After a year at Bentalou Elementary, she joined the faculty of Charles Carroll Barrister in 1975 and taught special education students. She never missed a day of work until failing health forced her to retire last year, her family said.

Bridget Dean, principal of the Southwest Baltimore elementary school, recalled her fondness for her students.

"She'd call me at home every week to see how her children were doing. She really missed them," said Miss Dean. "I told her that her old room was waiting, if she ever wanted to come back. She was such a dedicated individual."

For nearly three decades, happy pupils took their seats in her Room 208.

"She ruled her classroom with an iron fist of love, and when her students moved on to the next grade, she missed them, and they missed her," said her niece.

"It was a child-centered classroom that she made look like home. It was a very colorful and vibrant room. She had a fish tank, and the students' work was posted everywhere," said Mary E. Sneed, the school's assistant principal. "It was very conducive to learning."

She also praised Mrs. Caldwell as a mentor and for her teaching methods.

"She was a beacon of light to me and a very eloquent teacher who well served the children of Baltimore. She was a gift to education," Miss Sneed said. She taught her students in a very caring and nurturing way. If a student didn't get a concept, she took the time to work with them until they got it. She never left anyone behind."

The school honored Mrs. Caldwell with a moment of silence yesterday before beginning the day's activities.

"We plan to dedicate our resource room to her," Miss Dean said.

An active member of Mount Moriah Baptist Church, Mrs. Caldwell was a member of its choir, the Ladies Progressive Club, Black History Committee and Monday Doctrine Class.

She also was an avid gardener who enjoyed filling her front and back porches with flowers.

Services will be held at 11 a.m. tomorrow at Mount Moriah, 2201 Garrison Blvd.

In addition to her daughter, Mrs. Caldwell is survived by a son, Robert Caldwell of Randallstown; five brothers, Charles Mellerson and General Lee Mellerson, both of Buffalo, N.Y., Albert Mellerson of Miami, and Thomas Mellerson and James Mellerson, both of Baltimore; five sisters, Annie Mae Clark of Pittsburgh, Carrie Nelson of Philadelphia, and Emma Acoff, Lillian Burgin and Alma Mellerson, all of Buffalo; and two grandchildren.

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