Sunday, March 09, 2008

Dedication speech at the Bernice Jameson Todd Elementary School

Last Friday was the dedication day for the school (pictured on this blog) named after my grandmother. My cousin, Nancy Morris Perry, gave a speech in behalf of the family. I wasn't there at the dedication, but Aunt Helen sent me a copy. I think Nancy did a beautiful job of capturing many of the thoughts and memories we have about our grandmother and many of the high points of why she's remembered and revered by so many people. This is an interesting perspective on Bernice's life. Thanks, Nancy. I didn't realize that Dr. Mayo didn't think she was marriage material!


I am here today at this beautiful new school to share with you about the woman for whom it was named, Dr. Bernice Jameson Todd. She was my grandmother and I am speaking on behalf of the rest of the family members who are able to be here today and those who are not. I hope that this opportunity will allow me to give you some insight into her character and who she was.

Dr. Bernice Jameson Todd was born in Corona in 1891. Her grandfather, George L. Joy, was one of the Corona’s founding settlers. She was one of six children of William Henry and Hetty Joy Jameson. The family was involved in several businesses
including the farming of citrus.

My grandmother attended Corona schools. Her parents instilled in her and all of their children a passion for education and strong desire to help others. All six children, including the four girls, went on to pursue college educations, an unusual venture in the early 1900’s.

In 1909 Dr. Todd’s father sold a lemon grove in Los Angeles. Instead of prudently investing the money in the bank, he packed the family up and embarked on a year and a half long trip around the world. During this trip Dr. Todd was deeply moved by the extreme poverty and lack of medical care she saw in China and became determined to become a doctor. This was the beginning of a lifelong quest to help those in unfortunate situations. Dr Todd applied to and was accepted at Stanford
Medical School.

Dr. Todd worked hard in her studies. Signs now indicate that she probably had dyslexia, a learning disability that makes reading and writing quite difficult. Medical textbooks in the early 1900’s were still published in German. This must have made studies for her so much more challenging than for most.

Dr. Todd completed her residency at Children’s Hospital in San Francisco. She took her first job at the renowned Mayo Clinic in Minnesota. She was hired as lead assistant in thoracic surgery to Dr. Will Mayo. When he hired her, Dr. Mayo commented that she was not only dedicated to the profession, but was a suitable long-term hire as she did not seem to be a likely marriage prospect for anyone!

Love’s powers are stronger than one brilliant doctor’s assumption and my grandmother eventually returned to Corona to marry Clement J. Todd. Clement Todd was a graduate of the Coast Guard Academy and the first several years of their marriage included long separations while he served on an ice-cutting ship in the Bering Sea.

Grandma had the true spirit of an adventurer and the dedicated allegiance of a devoted wife. She and my grandfather had a close and committed marriage. When my grandfather left the Coast Guard to try his lot as a mining engineer in rugged, desolate Bisbee, Arizona, Grandma went with him. When my grandfather wanted to move to New York to work on the stock exchange, my grandmother went with him. When the market crashed in 1929, my grandparents came back to Corona where they became citrus farmers.

In the early 1930’s my grandmother began to work for the Corona schools as the school doctor. She helped treat children during the tuberculosis epidemic of the 1930’s and 1940’s. She established vaccination programs as well as nutritional and hygiene programs for the less fortunate. Dr. Todd provided meals for children who were not sure to receive them at home. She had a bathtub brought into the health
office so children who did not have plumbing in their homes could bathe at school. She would bring oranges from home so that children whose diets were supplemented
with that nasty castor oil could wash it down with fresh fruit. She served in this capacity for over 25 years.

World War II was a busy time for Dr. Todd. My grandfather died suddenly two weeks before Pearl Harbor was bombed. She was left with four children to raise. She was also entrusted to care for three nieces and nephews whose parents were
missionaries in Central America. She opened her home during the war to several military doctors and their families who were stationed at the Norco Naval Hospital. She also was left with the responsibility of running the family citrus farm. In addition to all of this, she continued to serve as the school doctor.

Doctor Todd was a committed Christian and was very involved in the Corona First Baptist Church. She believed that her God required action and outreach. In later years she could be seen in her walker picking fruit from her fruit trees to send to the Corona Settlement House and Senior Center.

All through her life she retained a keen interest in medicine, education and her faith. She wisely understood that education was larger than school and valued travel and varied experiences as well as a formal education. I can remember her reading her medical alumni magazines well into her ‘90’s. She often commented that “An education is something that can never be taken away from you.” She played a mean game of scrabble. Dr.Todd died in 1993 at the age of 102.

Dr. Todd had countless impressive accomplishments during her life. She is remembered by many as a woman pioneer in medicine. More importantly, she is remembered as loving mother and grandmother and great-grandmother who embodied the idea that those who have been given much have a responsibility to give to those with less.

1 comment:

Gary said...

Sheryl, thank you for posting this for we family memembers who weren't able to attend. And thanks to Nancy for presenting this. Great job. Yep, sis, a couple things that I didn't know also - great family history lesson.