Denise Day Spencer

January 16, 2006

Mr. Talbott

Filed under: Personal reflections — denisedayspencer @ 4:33 am

In honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., I’d like to share a personal story from the distant past.

When I was a child my parents always taught me that all people were created equal and to not discriminate based on skin color. I didn’t have any African-American friends, though. The school I went to was pretty much all-white. I only had one African-American child in my class and though he was extremely nice, he was a boy, so I didn’t associate much with him as a 10-year-old. (Sorry, Barry! I’d be friends with you now!)

In elementary school I hated P.E. class. (Well, in junior high I hated it, too, but we won’t go there right now.) I was never athletic, was always the last one chosen for the team, and you get the idea. Then when I was in the fifth grade everything changed. We got a new P.E. teacher. His name was G. G. Talbott.

Mr. Talbott was a young African-American man. I had never had an African-American teacher before. I had never had a male teacher before. And Mr. Talbott was way cool.

Other P.E. teachers had seemed to just care about the games, the rules, and (though I’m sure they tried not to) seemed to favor the kids who were athletic. Mr. Talbott loved all of us the same. He cared about us as people. He talked to us and showed an interest in our lives. If I was having a bad day, he’d notice and ask me about it.

And Mr. Talbott made P.E. enjoyable. It wasn’t just about getting chosen or winning. It was about having fun. It was in P.E. that we began doing things we’d never done before, like square dancing. (Could I exercise and have a good time? This was too good to be true!)

My sister and I went home from school talking about Mr. Talbott nearly every day. We were both devoted fans, and regularly told Mom and Dad stories about what we did in P.E. class, what Mr. Talbott did and said, etc. Then came a day I have never forgotten.

We were going somewhere in the car and were driving downtown. There, standing on a corner waiting to cross the street was our beloved Mr. Talbott. Tracy and I got excited. We waved, but he didn’t see us. “Mom! Dad!” we exclaimed. “Look! There’s Mr. Talbott!”

“Where?” they wanted to know. They glanced over their shoulders and in the rear view mirror. “We didn’t see anyone.”

“How could you miss him?” we cried. “He was on the corner. We just drove right past him!”

“The only person we saw was a black man standing on the corner,” they said.

“Yes!” we said. “That was Mr. Talbott!”

They were quite puzzled. “You girls come home talking about Mr. Talbott nearly every day,” they said. “In all that talking you never mentioned that he was black.”

“Well,” we answered (somewhat defensively), “you’ve always told us that skin color doesn’t matter.”

“It doesn’t,” they said. “We’re just surprised that you never mentioned it.”

Then I think they gave each other one of those parental knowing looks, as if to say, “We did something right.”

My folks taught me about a lot of things in life that mattered, and I’m grateful for that. But I’m also glad that they taught me about one thing that didn’t matter.

Thank you, Mr. Talbott, wherever you are. You made a lasting difference in one chubby little girl’s life.

And thank you, Dr. King, for your work, your love, your life. May your dream never die.



  1. What a great tribute to GG. I have known him for several years now and he is a quality person. We exchange political views in a good humored manner and I enjoy our repartee greatly. GG is a great example of what a teacher and educater can accomplish. Even though I am several years older than GG I just wish that I could have been in his class during my formative years. He is a great example of what what educator implies.

    Comment by Kenneth G. Jolly — November 7, 2006 @ 11:19 pm | Reply

  2. A moving tribute to a well deserving person . To God be the Glory
    for the things that He has done, is doing, and will continue to do through G.G.

    Comment by George T. Moore — November 8, 2006 @ 3:05 pm | Reply

  3. Denise,

    What a great story. GG is still making a difference in lives of students today at Owensboro Community & Technical College. As a counselor he always goes the extra mile to ensure that our students are on the right track. Thanks for sharing your story.

    Comment by Bernie Hale — November 8, 2006 @ 7:55 pm | Reply

  4. To know G.G. is to love him. It is hard to imagine a more fun
    person to be around. He has taught me a lot about golf,and
    life. I couldn’t ask for any more of a friend. I am truly blessed and honored to call him my friend.

    Comment by Nate Albert — November 14, 2006 @ 10:47 am | Reply

  5. I was blessed knowing GG. You see I too never had a teacher that was African-American until Mr. Talbott. He always turned those bad days around. Always joking and just making you feel good. I kept in contact with him over the years, in just recent years my teacher became a near and dear friend. We played golf together from time to time and talked of the numerous memories and stories of his teaching career. It has been hard for me to call him GG or Grant he is and always will be “Mr.Talbott”. He recently passed away. Yes I am deeply saddened. I will miss that personally that only he was able to pull off. He truely led his students by example a trait that very few can live up to.

    Comment by Jeff Tompkins — August 27, 2007 @ 12:38 pm | Reply

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