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VI’s educational legend & patriot Jennie N. Wheatley MBE passes

Local educator, historian, mother, author, wife, and patriot Mrs Jennie Naomi Wheatley, MBE passed away at her home last evening, Thursday, October 5, 2023, at the age of 84. Photo: Team of Reporters
'Pass It On!', one of the many works of the late Jennie N. Wheatley, was published in 1991. Photo: Team of Reporters
'Pass It On!', one of the many works of the late Jennie N. Wheatley, was published in 1991. Photo: Team of Reporters
Teacher ‘Jennie’, as she was affectionately called, made her biggest mark in education as a long-standing member of the Territory’s intellectual class. Photo: VINO/File
Teacher ‘Jennie’, as she was affectionately called, made her biggest mark in education as a long-standing member of the Territory’s intellectual class. Photo: VINO/File
EAST END, Tortola, VI- The Virgin Islands’ community has been placed in mourning over the passing of local educator, historian, mother, author, wife, and patriot Mrs Jennie Naomi Wheatley MBE. She passed away at her home last evening Thursday, October 5, 2023, at the age of 84, having been born on June 24, 1939.

Teacher ‘Jennie’, as she was affectionately called, made her biggest mark in education, as a long-standing member of the Territory’s intellectual class. The deceased is survived by three sons- former Financial Secretary L. Allen Wheatley, Lloyd, and Leon- and husband Dr Charles H. Wheatley, OBE.

After high school, Teacher Jennie attended the Leeward Islands Teachers Training College in Antigua where she graduated in 1960. She returned to Tortola and worked as a schoolteacher before traveling to Canada, where she studied at Mount Allison University and graduated with bachelor’s degrees in English and education in 1970.

In 1981, she went to England to receive further training in education at the University of Leeds.

She loved education and history

As a school teacher in the Virgin Islands, Teacher Jennie taught at both primary and secondary schools and often mentioned her teaching works at the Althea Scatliffe, Cane Garden Bay and Alexandrina Maduro primary schools.

The late Wheatley also taught for years at the then BVI High School where she rose to the rank of Assistant Principal. On leaving the BVI High School (now Elmore Stoutt High School), she lectured at H. Lavity Stoutt Community College (HLSCC) where she co-founded the Virgin Islands Studies Programme.

She also served on the HLSCC's Board of Governors as well as the BVI Tourist Board. The deceased was named a member of the Order of the British Empire in the 1993 New Year Honours for her work in education.

The writer

In the early 1970s, Wheatley worked with her students to collect local proverbs and sayings, which she then compiled in her first book, Bohog Put in Gol' Teet': Proverbs and Pearls of Wisdom, in 1974.

After her experience working on Bohog Put in Gol' Teet', Wheatley decided to work on a collection of stories about a Caribbean child named Boysie, which borrowed from the islands' folk culture. It was published by UNESCO in 1984 under the title Boysie and the Genips, and Other Stories. A sequel, Pass It On!, was published in 1991.

Teacher Jennie published four children's books in 2005 and 2006: Danielle’s Trunk, Ariana likes to Read, Who Is the Best in the Garden?, and Timmy Turtle Runs Away, all of which take place in the Virgin Islands. In 2009, she released her first poetry collection, Along the Road.

Her work in education was also regional as she has worked with the regional body Caribbean Examinations Council (CXC) to develop standardised test questions, serving on its English Panel.

Mrs Wheatley retired around 1997 but was still involved in after-school programmes. She also enjoyed cooking, baking, and spending time with her grandchildren.

The Staff and Management of Virgin Islands News Online offer condolences to the immediate family and other loved ones of the late Jennie N. Wheatley, MBE.

22 Responses to “VI’s educational legend & patriot Jennie N. Wheatley MBE passes”

  • rip (06/10/2023, 08:14) Like (56) Dislike (0) Reply
  • WOW (06/10/2023, 08:15) Like (31) Dislike (0) Reply
    Another Stallworth gone. May she rest in peace.
    • @wow (06/10/2023, 09:00) Like (9) Dislike (6) Reply
      Stallworth or Stalwart...
      • @@wow (06/10/2023, 10:59) Like (14) Dislike (1) Reply
        @@Wow, indeed, Teacher Jennie was an English connoisseur, drill Sargent, martinet, etc so we need to get it right. Lol. But it was probably an inadvertent error by wow. These programs force the use of words and we may end up using the wrong form of similar sounding words.
  • Andrew Cox Sr (06/10/2023, 08:27) Like (13) Dislike (0) Reply
    Wonderful Lady: thought me at school:
    Much Love to the Family: Great Lady
  • pat (06/10/2023, 08:40) Like (7) Dislike (0) Reply
    What a list what a rich history rest
  • E. Leonard (06/10/2023, 08:52) Like (22) Dislike (0) Reply
    Dr. Charles Wheatley, Allen, Lloyd, and Leon, along with the rest of the family, warmest and deepest condolences. As you mourn the loss of Teacher Jennie, the family matriarch, may you find peace, comfort, faith and strength. Teacher Jennie, teacher, author, cultural icon, etc, gone too soon but she will not be forgotten and her precious memories, contributions, will be cherished and live on. May her soul rest easy in eternal peace.
  • long look me come from (06/10/2023, 09:19) Like (12) Dislike (0) Reply
    Another local icon has transitioned
  • KB (06/10/2023, 09:44) Like (28) Dislike (0) Reply
    As a former student at HLSCC, Mrs Wheatley was a gem. She and Mitch Kent made The Virgin Islands Studies program a great experience for their students and made me appreciate my islands even more! No disrespect to today's teachers but they don't make them like Mrs Wheatley anymore - a true educator!

    Condolences to her husband, children and the rest of her family and friends.
    • @KB (06/10/2023, 10:10) Like (15) Dislike (0) Reply
      Mrs Wheatley talked around the compound with her leather strap and kept us in check. those were the good old days

      there is a substantial change in the territory these days but the Grace of God and hope can continue keeping the people moving forward

      Teacher Wheatley is a Gem
      • leather strap (06/10/2023, 16:32) Like (5) Dislike (0) Reply
        Yes Lord...She would walk them blocks like a drill Sargent. She meant business. Just one look was all it took. She rarely had to use that strap. That serious look was enough for you to adjust your uniform. LOL.

        I personally was on my best behavior whenever I say her coming. Quiet like a church mice. Was not trying to taste that strap.

        Those were the good ole days. Rest on Teacher Jenny. One of a kind. May God be with you. Condolence to teacher Charles and the surviving family.

        A generation of our elders are moving on. Lets celebrate and love those who are left.
  • May she never be forgotton (06/10/2023, 10:06) Like (9) Dislike (2) Reply
    Much respect Mrs. Wheatley. May you rest in peace and your legacy live on. This lady taught me more about BVI history in 1 semester at HLSCC than all my 12 years in BVI primary and secondary school system.
    • rip (06/10/2023, 12:43) Like (8) Dislike (0) Reply
      This lady was a teacher. She taught me University level English. We simply dont have teachers anymore and to find her kind it will cost alot. I wish parents all the best today.
      • @rip (07/10/2023, 06:18) Like (1) Dislike (1) Reply
        @RIP, what is university level English? Was she strict, demonstrating a no nonsense attitude, making sure every I dotted and every T crossed, all grammatical mechanics correct, writing with style, variation, etc, beyond a series of declarative sentences. If yes, got you. May she RIP.
  • ccc (06/10/2023, 11:32) Like (7) Dislike (0) Reply
    She was a good lady
  • a friend (06/10/2023, 11:41) Like (11) Dislike (0) Reply
    This makes me so sad. I worked with Teacher Jenny for a number of years and she was a remarkable lady. The VI has lost a true patriot and driving force in the local education system. Condolences to Dr Wheatley and his family.
  • Roger Burnett (06/10/2023, 12:35) Like (10) Dislike (1) Reply
    In addition to her role as educator and author, Jennie Wheatley gave encouragement to immerging authors and poets. The eulogy she read for her protégée, Virgin Island poet Sheila Hyndman (1958-1991), could fittingly serve as her own.

    "Even when you were young, you spoke like an old sage. That wisdom you have left us. And those you never touched in life, you will touch now... You toiled in the night while we slept. Your spirit soared to heights unknown, while we lay low. What you garnered at those heights, you brought to us lesser mortals... More of your food we crave, but you have soared beyond our reach. You have left so much, that you will never die!"

  • RIEP (06/10/2023, 12:41) Like (6) Dislike (0) Reply
    Condolences to the family of Teacher Jennie. May she was a great teacher and story teller. You will be missed. RIEP
  • Fam (06/10/2023, 13:22) Like (13) Dislike (0) Reply
    I like how her son allen took good care of her in her last days
    • Leroy Crosse (07/10/2023, 11:13) Like (6) Dislike (0) Reply
      I sat across from Ms Wheatley in the staff room at BVI High School (1972-1974) where I taught Scence and Math . She was always proper and strict but never hostile. She had a sense of humor reflecting her knowledge of her community. Much respect to a lady of substance who helped many
  • coach mike (08/10/2023, 12:16) Like (0) Dislike (0) Reply
  • Tafari Zharr (13/10/2023, 11:16) Like (7) Dislike (0) Reply

    By Tafari Zharr

    Only A Savant would know the answer to that question that’s why she became an INFALLIBLE AUTHORITY ON EXPLAINING STUFF -Jennie N. Wheatley , MBE - A Masterful, Beautiful, Endangered specie

    Mayhem: Where do words go to die?
    Teacher: “If not in tears or laughter then WORDS FLY”

    I learned the expression In High-school from my mentor, Teacher Jennie, whose love language was to be “hard on me”. Her genius approach proved to be truly meaningful as she applauded my independent thinking which began with me constantly questioning everything including where do words go to die? Do the research but “ Pass It On” a book she subsequently authored.

    An infallible authority on explaining stuff- Such was the nature of our relationship . She once said I was so self aware that I probably didn’t need another fiction book to read but should incorporate tears and laughter in writing and that was how “Mrs JW” as I affectionately called her revealed her writing style to me; sorry but in those days I thought she laughed out loud just like Jimmy Walker from Good-Times. Yes, her magical laughter always near to tears, but too discretionary seemed to come from a contrite heart, her reaction spontaneously serios and a precursor for the reserved proactive - Write Something!

    So today, I remember the swiftness of her pen as she’d scribble a name of a book I could read if I could get it first…”Soul Chant” by Jon Lucien falls off her lips .. Did she just chant that tune? What a diversely connected intellectual! She knew everything and everyone.

    A savant with a lot to say though she didn’t talk too much - she herself an audacious “creative content consultant” ahead of her time sought to advance ideas, testing, and concepts that responded to nuances of supporting student life, conflict with educational issues, improvements, and imposing implements .

    Out of love and concern for student rights and freedoms she was advocating “teaching tolerance” boldly discussing and proudly embracing the argot of the idioms of the indigenous Virgin Islander. All this awareness guidance while reassuring me that there was nothing notably unusual about dialects as we are byproducts of the diaspora. Always adding you know VI people chose sometimes to distance themselves … - some …she’d chuckled only as if she had the last laugh. She always did.

    During the beginning of my writing career I recognized that in brainstorming for the composition that both intent and content was constitutional to context.. I devised a cheat sheet for jotting ideas and discovered that Mrs JW was an essay strategist when once she disclosed a more of her tools including tone and try color via the right expository grammar. What in the VI was that?

    I was willing to learn - the truth is Mrs JW was always busy - I chased after her “master class” after school - although in a nutshell stealing five minutes here and there from her subtracting time she didn’t have remaining in her day; she explained how strapped she was addressing me with the obvious scheduling she needed to get to like conferring with peers, meetings.or grading papers. Yet every week she became more fascinating and mysteriously out of time; and yet she almost always slowed down in expectation that she played a role in my book life. If she didn’t have a book to toss my way she’d tell me a good book to read.

    Always when I needed her- she became the ultimate ubiquitous woman - I can almost hear her drawled out “y e s” As I would encounter her … “what do you think about the titles in Norwalk Harrigan’s and Pearl Varlack’s paper on “The US Virgin Islands and the Black Experience”? I wanted to know if she would counter with a piece on The BVI people and take “black” out of the equation. She said that would be “mayhem” - I wrote that word everywhere and for awhile Mayhem was my alias.

    I had to have pep in my step just to keep up with wit and sure stride of “The Geni” . She appeared noble and commanding in ways that made her tower over me like she was Cleopatra of Culture, the Cannon of Canterbury, and the Architect Of Herstory” - Read Between The Lines.

    I thought I could keep up with her if I read what she read. So I purposefully stopped her for book talk about what she was reading but she would often rattle off there’s something in the Island Sun of which I had no interest in newspapers back then - only newly accessed books but she got me reading the paper only after suggesting I enter a writing contest in the Daily News. I still don’t think I was wrong about feeling somehow that me asking her anything became an assignment.

    “There’s a brown girl in the ring…” Really? I’ve never missed a day in her class. She had something to teach and I was willing to show up to learn. Most importantly I embraced how she used language so artfully to present dialogue- and specifically in the sense that Geography was perhaps more contemporaneous than history and socially more advantageous to our local politics .

    I’d come around to accepting the confidence and trust in my becoming as Teacher Jennie half smilingly cajoled “you know Sheila, Roy, and Kenny are good; so are you ready to join the “club”? Of course it was a phantom club with actual hopeful serious, local, poets like, again: Sheila, Roy, and Kenny. so I was initiated with a nod .

    I parked myself at the public Library and fell in love with “Harlem” Langston Hughes” poem about what happens to dreams deferred? It soon became clear to me that my dreams could be deferred ; but love was going to be hard on me unless I was reading as it also meant I could escape of doing any chores.

    I thought she was ahead of her time in that her political watchfulness envisioned a Virgin Islands where progressive thinking and educational progress were reimagined . In the classroom as she used her teaching to help lift voices and social and cultural perspectives to preserve aspects of national pride and although the classrooms were small our local readings Ricochet as if we were athletes Competing in an auditorium - our roles She urged us to“speak up” coaching us to amplify the past to safeguard traditions, proverbs, and the tangibles.

    At graduation celebration she rewarded me the coveted award “Most Likely To succeed”
    I resented it until she broke it down- what else do you love? Before I could respond she’d said “ All is well”

    Subsequently if you were lucky to get a on-one-on one with her you could benefit from the lure of her explaining stuff and i wished secretly for an “auntie Jennie” . I regret that over the years that the further I got away from high school days the more she too became an endangered species - until last week I’d putt off sending The “Jenius ” copies of my published successes and triumphs..

    Eventually … I parked words on pages and to help effect change I d termines to see - to be able to recognize injustices, identify inequalities, and expose hateful rhetoric

    O Jennie Why’d you gone and die?- I poured my grief out in disbelief and wiping my eyes I hugged myself and tried not to cry.- I wished I would soon sleep! With tears streaming down my cheeks I searched dramatically for the consolation song to ease me into slumberland. And once again Love …Hard on me.

    A long night ensued until “a song crept into my head and I started humming and fibbing my groove into the forgotten lyrics of: “Love’s Been A Little Bit Hard On Me“ By Juice Newtons. So I quickly searched found and saved on my playlist- That’s how I’ll honor the masterfully brilliant endangered specie - a BVI Book - A treasure -farewell “Jenius Jen”.

    Jennie N Wheatley, MBE., as best as I can express in Latin “Verba volant, scripta manent”


    Dedicated To Dr Charles H Wheatley, Families and Friends - Deep Condolences - “One Day At A Time” your mantra and in honor of and remembering her- “All Is Well”. May all your wonderful memories comfort you during this heartbreaking time.

    Copyright © 2023. By Tafari Zharr. All rights reserved.

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