Retired U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Samuel Nichols Jr. was coming home to celebrate his birthday.
At least, that was the story he gave his former teacher Della McCaughan. But at Brookdale Senior Living Home on Saturday, Nichols and his family actually came together with some of McCaughan’s closest friends to surprise her with a birthday party for them both.
Nichols, who came from his Washington, D.C., home, for McCaughan’s 89th birthday, said he wanted to show his appreciation for the retired educator and science enthusiast. He recalled his days in school under her during the height of segregation.
“Do you want to know what the great equalizer is?” he said. “God! When people are hurting there is no color.” He said when it came to teachers like McCaughan, he never saw color.
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McCaughan remembers the respectful student with that tough exterior. She shared several stories about him, recalling his father’s no-nonsense approach to discipline and insistence that the young man respect his teacher. She said the thing she remembers most about “Sam is the curiosity and wonderment on his face during class.”
McCaughan recalled he could be very stubborn about doing homework. She said she once invited him to her home after football practice to ensure he did his homework. Two pitchers of sweet tea and a half-gallon of fried oysters later, she was happy to see him leave. But the assignment was completed.
Former students Patty Caranna and Bobbi Thompson also attended. They also remembered McCaughan’s investment in her students.
McCaughan began teaching in 1951 and retired in 1995 from Biloxi Public Schools. During her 44-year career, she taught students from elementary to high school. She conducted several environmental workshops and authored several introductory-level marine science books.
She was named Mississippi’s Teacher of the Year in 1976 and inducted into the Mississippi Hall of Master Teachers in 1991. She was an educational adviser to U.S. Sen. Thad Cochranand and has worked several times with the National Science Foundation.
In honor of her 89th birthday, the Biloxi City Council has proclaimed April to be Della M. McCaughan Month, and the proclamation was among her birthday surprises Saturday.