The Teacher that Changed My Life

  Cynthia O’Connell, Florida Prepaid College Foundation Director

Cynthia O’Connell, Florida Prepaid College Foundation Director

Cynthia O’Connell is Director of the Florida Prepaid College Foundation, the giving arm of the Florida Prepaid College Board. When she looks back on the many teachers who were part of her K-12 years, one teacher stands out above the rest.

James Montgomery was a longtime history and tennis teacher and tennis team coach at Columbia High School, in Lake City, where he attended as a student in the late 1940s. The students, then and now, call him “Mr. Mont.” Over the past four-plus decades, he has been a favorite teacher of many Columbia High School students – O’Connell included.

Here is why, in her words:

“He was our father and our coach. He showed us compassion. He showed us discipline. He showed us humor. And he showed us love. He has come to our weddings, special events, and family gatherings.

It’s incredible to me how one person can make such a difference and continue to touch lives through his sustainability. When it gets rough in life, you have to keep going. And he instilled that in us. ‘Go get the point. And then get the next point. Keep doing that, and then you’ve won.’ That’s what he taught us. It might sound trite, but it is so true: He wins the match of life for how many of us he has inspired.”

Montgomery began teaching in 1962 and recently retired. Students, current and past, gathered in Lake City last fall for “James Montgomery Appreciation Day,” honoring the man who invested so much of his time and wisdom in them. A testament to his impact: The Columbia High School student body selected him as commencement speaker and insisted he keep the role for more than 35 years.

  On behalf of Florida Prepaid, Cynthia O’Connell awards scholarships to Hispanic Heritage Month Essay Contest winners.

On behalf of Florida Prepaid, Cynthia O’Connell awards scholarships to Hispanic Heritage Month Essay Contest winners.