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Queens Chronicle

IN MEMORIAM Venus Hall proved it: The pupil shall be the teacher

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Posted: Thursday, March 1, 2018 10:30 am

I knew Venus Hall was special since I met her nearly 35 years ago. But it wasn’t until she passed away on Feb. 11 and the expressions of sympathy started pouring in on social media that I realized just how special she really was — and how many lives she had affected so deeply.

And she did it all just by being herself.

A Celebration of Life Memorial Service held a few days after her passing, with hundreds packing the church to overflowing, confirmed the love.

The Hall family had long been a well-respected presence in southeast Queens, their home for decades and a place they helped transform through their general contracting company, the first owned by African Americans to build under the New York City Housing Partnership.

I got to know Venus beginning at August Martin High School, where I was an English teacher and she was a student, drawn together by our mutual passion for theater.

March 28, 1985 was opening night of our school production of the musical “Raisin.” Venus took center stage as the much older, world-weary family matriarch, and set the auditorium ablaze with her indelible portrayal. All it took was a gray wig, a matronly dress, and Venus’ own resourcefulness as an actress ... and she became “Mama.” As her director, all I could do was sit back in awe. She was all of 16 at the time.

Over the years, I would write several plays that were performed around the borough as well as on Long Island. It seemed there would always be a part in each one for Venus. I’d pick up the phone and, no matter how busy she was — with her own family, work, church — she made the time.

There is a song in “The King and I” that suggests, “It’s a very ancient saying, but a true and honest thought, that if you become a teacher, by your pupils you’ll be taught.”

Indeed, Venus taught me so many things, perhaps most significantly the importance of enjoying life in the moment and not worrying about what was out of our control.

Venus’ grandmother lived to the age of 103. During her last few years, she had some touch-and-go moments, and I was always afraid to ask Venus as to her welfare, and if she didn’t worry about losing her.

She would always tell me, “We celebrate every day that we have her with us.” To this day, I hear Venus’ voice reminding me to focus on the here and now and to celebrate that.

Perhaps it was this positive outlook that drew everyone to Venus. And she had an uncanny way of bringing people together. Even after leaving us, she seemed to continue to weave her magic, as many of her high school friends, including several cast members from “Raisin,” who had not seen each other in years, came together to honor her memory.

And a Forget-Me-Not Homecoming is set for next month, giving her friends a chance to reconvene and share memories in an informal setting.

In college, Venus majored in education for the hearing impaired. She put her training to use in various schools around the city and continued her career as a teacher at the Alley Pond Environmental Center, where she introduced young children to the wonders of nature.

She combined her love of singing with her deep faith in God by leading the choir at Mount Moriah AME Church in Cambria Heights, where she nurtured the talents of even the youngest members of the congregation.

In her last days, following a three-year battle with colon cancer, by all accounts, she never complained. When she was asked how she was doing, the answer was always the same: “All Is Well.” It was a phrase she had adapted from a story in The Bible and one she was to use as a response in all situations.

As a woman of God, she was prepared to accept whatever the fates had in store for her.

She ultimately lived a short life — she was only 49 — but it was a life that seemed particularly well-spent.

Perhaps the key to what made it so remarkable was that Venus was always aware of who she was. A line under her photo in her high school yearbook reads, “My goal: To sing and teach.” Even then she knew.

Mark Lord is a Queens Chronicle contributing writer, retired teacher, playwright and community theater actor who lives in Forest Hills.

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