Creese, who was in her final year of teaching Spanish at Northwestern High, died Sunday at age 72 from complications of the novel coronavirus. She is the second educator at Northwestern High and the third school employee in Prince George’s County to die from the virus. Counselor Terrance Burke, who also coached basketball, died March 27 at 54. Eastern Stewart Jr., who managed the Bowie Center for the Performing Arts, died the next day at 71.
Creese left behind two grown children and the hundreds of students who passed through her classroom at the Hyattsville high school over her 25 years there.
“Ms. Creese was a wonderful colleague and an amazing person,” Principal E. Carlene Murray said in a statement. “Her warm smile welcomed everyone to Northwestern High School. … She was a beautiful woman whose light made all of our lives brighter.”
It’s unclear how Creese contracted the virus. Her daughter said she took public buses to get around and had gone to the supermarket. But as the pandemic crests in parts of the United States, students are grappling with the loss of teachers and other educators, despite their schools being shuttered to slow the virus’s spread.
Creese was born in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Her mother sent her to live in Trinidad and Tobago with relatives, who discouraged Creese from studying, her family said. She fell in love with school, even though she frequently had to do her homework by candlelight because her family shut off the lights to save electricity.
A principal took an interest in her and advanced her two grade levels. She went on to the University of the West Indies, where students could attend for free, and studied Romance languages. She started her career teaching Spanish there.
“She had all these obstacles in her way when it came to getting her education and she still prevailed at the end,” said her daughter, Michelle Hyland.
When a coup rattled Trinidad, Creese began making plans to leave, said Michael Hyland, her son. He recalls occasionally hearing gunshots in the distance. Once, when the shots sounded too close, he and his mother and sister dropped to the ground and crawled inside the house. His mother, he remembers, let out one of her infectious laughs.
Creese decided to move herself and her daughter to the D.C. area, where their extended family already lived. Creese took work as a substitute teacher before landing her position at Northwestern High in 1995. She taught there for the rest of her career, leaving such an impression on her students that she could rarely go to the shopping mall or supermarket without crossing paths with one.
She constantly pushed the young people around her — her students, her own children, her nieces and nephews — to go to college. When her son told her he was weighing dropping out of college to become a comedian, she told him: “You’re not that funny. Stay in school.”
He went on to earn a PhD in chemistry.
Creese continued to teach even as she battled health problems. Her kidneys began failing about eight years ago. A car wreck and worsening vision forced her to abandon driving, so she rose early and took two buses to and from work every day. At school one day, a gregarious student ran to give her a hug and bowled her over, causing an arm injury she never fully recovered from. But she kept returning to the classroom.
“She always talked about how being a teacher was so rewarding to her,” Michelle Hyland said.
Last month, Creese put in her papers to retire at the end of this school year. But she did not want to leave the profession entirely. She planned to open a tutoring business in her home and hoped to substitute teach.
“She was very passionate about her job,” her daughter said. “She was eager to work.”
Donna St. George contributed.