By Michael Bird


We often fail to thank the very people who pushed us into the real world and those who truly made a difference.

Occasionally, someone crosses our path and their influence is felt much later in life than the time in which you have daily interaction with them.

All of us have special memories of our time in school. For me, there was no greater thrill than my first day at Robert E. Lee High School. Nearly 20 years prior, my parents had met as members of the Choralees, the premier vocal ensemble at Lee. I always pondered the secret mysteries of the choral room, wondering if that powerful love force would come my way, as it had for my mom and dad.

There was a wonderful English class. My English teacher, Terri Richburg, was also experiencing her first day at Lee and admitted she was nervous. She had taught English at the University of Alabama and came across as very professional and dedicated. She was unlike any other teacher I’d met before.

Mrs. Richburg had a bulletin board above the blackboard that read, “Attitude is the Key to Success.” I have recalled that motivational phrase time and again through the many years since. It is amazing what sticks with you.

I loved to write and she encouraged my creative muse to the point I prepared a portfolio of prose and poetry. With her red pen in hand, Mrs. Richburg graded my efforts. She spent her own time reading through some really awful poems and terrible short stories, yet she cared enough to make comments about how I could improve. I am certain I would never have landed a weekly newspaper column or had a book published without Mrs. Richburg’s influence.

Years later, I was hired to be the band director at my alma mater and when I was introduced by principal Randy Skipper, there was an audible shriek across the Lee lunchroom. Mrs. Richburg ran over to hug me, welcoming me back home.

Mrs. Richburg was once a member of the Long Blue Line and played clarinet in Ed Watkins’ band at Tallassee High School. She also grew up on Alber Drive, the street where our family lives, which I never knew until recently. I suppose it all comes full circle.

Before her retirement a few years ago, Mrs. Richburg was awarded Robert E. Lee High School’s highest honor, voted on by faculty and administrators: “Teacher of the Year.” I can think of no one more deserving.

Thank you, Mrs. Richburg, for making a difference.