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How a teacher's act of kindness bound her student and family together

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Time now for StoryCorps. John Cruitt's mother died just days before Christmas in 1958. He's never forgotten the way his third grade teacher, Cecile Doyle, supported him. More than 50 years later, he wrote to her, and soon after, they reunited.

JOHN CRUITT: When I returned to school, you waited until the other children left the room at the end of the day, and you told me that you were there if I needed you. And you bent over and kissed me on the head. It was really the only time someone said to me, I know what you're feeling and I know what you're missing. And I felt that things really would be OK.

CECILE DOYLE: When I found out she died, I could certainly relate to that because when I was 11, my own father died. And you just don't know how you're going to go on without that person.

CRUITT: Many years later, when I became a teacher, I started to think to myself, here I am with a memory of a teacher who changed my life, and I've never told her that.

C DOYLE: And your letter could not have come at a better time, because my husband had Parkinson's and he was going downhill. And I read this beautiful letter and I just was overwhelmed.

CRUITT: Well, the funny thing is, I typed the letter. I was afraid my penmanship wasn't going to meet your standards.

C DOYLE: (Laughter).

CRUITT: Well, after all this time, Mrs. Doyle, all I can say to you is thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

FADEL: Cecile Doyle died in 2019. Recently, John sat down with Cecile's daughter, Allison.

CRUITT: My relationship with you is very important to me because all those years I was away from your mother, 54 years, I didn't know if she was being loved. And when I met you, it made me feel so much better. Do you remember the day we actually had the reunion?

ALLISON DOYLE: To see you standing in the doorway with the flowers, approaching one another - and instinctively, she gave you a kiss on the forehead.

CRUITT: It was an absolutely unbelievable feeling that I had. It was like I was seeing Mrs. Doyle and I was seeing my mother at the same time.

A DOYLE: We had put a book together of all of the pictures of your reunion, the letter, and she would show friends. And we had that book at her funeral service. So that for me, I think, helped me through my grief, because we get wrapped up in the person going and leaving us. And then you realize it's about, what have they left behind?

CRUITT: I'm just so grateful also that in some small way, I was able to bring her a little bit of joy before it was too late.

A DOYLE: And that was in a big way, John. I almost feel like you're a brother.

CRUITT: I suspect our mothers have something to do with it.

A DOYLE: They might quite well, yes. That's something to do with that, I think. So what a gift they gave us.

CRUITT: They certainly did.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

FADEL: Allison Doyle and John Cruitt in Towaco, N.J. Their StoryCorps conversation is archived at the Library of Congress.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Barry Gordemer is an award-winning producer, editor, and director for NPR's Morning Edition. He's helped produce and direct NPR coverage of two Persian Gulf wars, eight presidential elections, the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, and hurricanes Katrina and Harvey. He's also produced numerous profiles of actors, musicians, and writers.