Leslie-Ann Nelson’s pupils called her “ma’am”, but it might just as well have been “mom”.
That’s how Edgar Magaar, the acting principal of Westridge High, sees it.
He spoke at a school memorial service for Ms Nelson on Wednesday July 1. The Portland teacher died on Sunday June 28 of a medical condition unrelated to Covid-19. She was 51.
“There is no dispute that as a teacher at Westridge High, she treated every pupil as her own,” Mr Magaar said. “She would fight for them, support them, comfort them and spur them on at the athletics track or on the soccer field.”
She had taught pupils how to stand-up for themselves and how to be competitive both on and off the field. Her class had always been the first to fill up donation lists and raffle sheets.
A highly respected member of staff, Ms Nelson had been respectful, professional and diplomatic in her approach to everyone, Mr Magaar said. She had also been strict and had commanded respect in her classroom.
“When one walked into her class you could hear a pin drop,” he said.
She had embraced technology, he added, and had gone out of her way to run extra classes and study sessions from her home.
Junaid Williams studied with Ms Nelson, and the two of them started teaching at Mount View Primary School in Hanover Park in 1990. Ms Nelson had started teaching Grade 9 maths and after joining Westridge in 2007 had taught business and accounting, he said.
“I don’t think anyone can come close to describing the wonderful person she really was… she was an amazing friend.”
Mr Williams joined Westridge High in 2011. “She would harass me to join the school,” he said. “She was more excited to let me know about this post.”
Ms Nelson leaves behind six children, Samantha Wilson, 35, Liano Nelson, 24, Mushfeeqa Walters, 20, Liam Nelson, 17, Junaid Walters, 16, and Jubair Walter, 9, and her husband Clayton Walters, 41.
Liano and Mushfeeqa are Westridge High alumni, Liam is in matric there and Junaid is in Grade 11.
Mr Walters said his wife had always been ready to help others.
“Our boys knew that they had to give up their room on some days as my wife offered many people a place to stay, be it for work, for school, anything, she would open up our home to those who needed it.”
She would find a way to help anyone who wanted to study further, he said.
Her last wish, he said, had been to see her granddaughters, Gianna Davids, who is nine-months-old, and Amarah Walters who is eight-months-old.
Ms Nelson taught matric pupils Naeema Daniels, 17, and Simone Wolmarans, 17, when they were in Grade 9 in 2017.
Naeema said she had been a loving person, easy to love, adding: “She made me a better person in my academics.”
Simone said she had been like a mother to all her pupils.
“She guided us in our schooling career. We would visit her at her home, and we’d eat a lot with all the food she prepared, she made sure we were fed.”
Mr Williams told the memorial service that Ms Nelson had been the sort of person who wanted to make sure everyone was happy.
“It is hard to say goodbye to someone who had such a big impact on our lives. Her legacy will live on forever,” he said.