Devoted science teacher Derek ‘Mr. T’ Tyler, who spent 38 years educating thousands of Cayman’s students, will be laid to rest on 23 Jan. He died at the age of 80 on 22 Dec.
Tyler, who was originally from the UK, moved from Jamaica to Cayman in 1977 to become a science teacher at the then Cayman Islands High School.
“He came to Cayman at a time when the islands were quite quaint, particularly on the subject of sciences,” said Debra McLaughlin, who was taught by Tyler from 1977 to 1979. “He was very passionate about biology, and I can still remember him making all the girls dissect cockroaches and, man, did we hate it.”
Over the years, Tyler taught biology, zoology, marine biology, human biology and general sciences. His grasp of general knowledge was also an asset treasured by all the schools where he taught. However, for some, what he was remembered most for were his “funky coloured socks”.
“I can remember we would rush to class to see what colour pants and socks he was wearing… he would never wear the same colour socks as his pants,” said McLaughlin. “There were times he would wear purple pants with yellow socks; it was a delight for us. It was only years later when I became a teacher myself that I realised the true reason behind those socks.”
McLaughlin explained that Tyler’s choice of socks made him approachable to students. Though Cayman’s education system would undergo several changes over the years, Tyler and his socks were a constant, even when he left the public school system and moved to Cayman Prep and High School in 2008.
“I would eventually return to Cayman as a qualified educator myself, and would go on to become Mr. T’s boss,” said McLaughlin, a former principal of John Gray High School, who is now the director of Cayman Prep and High School. Tyler’s employment as a teacher overlapped with McLaughlin’s time at both schools.
“I can remember sitting in and observing his science lessons, and even though many years had passed, he was still the same Mr. T, his passion had not faded, and his lessons were just as exciting as ever,” she said.
Paul Tyler, Derek Tyler’s son, said of his father: “When he retired in 2015, it wasn’t because he wanted to. His mind was still perfectly intact. However, due to his age he had to retire, but he never stopped teaching. In fact, he continued tutoring students and would check in with them to see how they were progressing.”
Dedicated to sports
His love and passion for teaching was matched by his commitment to sports, particularly squash. That dedication led Tyler to becoming a founding member of the South Sound Squash Club, where he spent many years developing its youth programme.
“We have been members of the Squash Club since arriving in Cayman in 1998. Mr. Tyler was the first person I met at the club, and he signed me up immediately without asking,” said Dan MacLean, the chairman and director of the club. “Many of our younger players (and now young adults), including our daughter and son, grew up in the Squash Club and benefited from Mr. T’s wisdom, both in the classroom, and on and off the court.
“Derek’s good spirit will always be on the court with us, and he and his late wife Ann are undoubtedly keeping a watchful eye on ‘their club.’”
Tyler would go on to take several of the youth players to tournaments throughout the Caribbean, and in 2018 he was recognised during the National Heroes Day celebrations as a ‘Pioneer of the Sport’.
Devoted family man
Tyler’s greatest love was his family, said his children Paul and Cathryn Tyler, adding they “couldn’t have asked for a better dad”.
“I can remember going to the mangroves and through the shallow tide pools as a child with him and we would collect tiny invertebrates and other fascinating things that we would take back to our aquarium at home; he knew all the names of the creatures, including their Latin names,” Paul said.
Cathryn remembers feeling slightly jealous of, but happy about, all the people who adored her father.
“When we were younger, I can remember him going to check on his students at their homes, because to him they were more than just another pupil, or a number; each child was a person who he cared about,” she said.
“In his later years, going to Foster’s was his greatest joy because he would run into so many of his former students and would be able catch up on their progress in life, and even though he taught so many, he would always remember their names, and their stories.”
Cathryn and Paul both say they knew their father’s love for the community and his students was reciprocated, but it wasn’t until disaster struck that they truly understood the extent of that mutual admiration.
Tyler was badly injured in a head-on collision in August 2019, and mounting medical bills forced his children to set up a GoFundMe account. Within hours, nearly half of the $25,000 goal had been raised, and in a matter of days the total reached more than $40,000.
But it was the messages and emails that accompanied the donations that moved ‘Mr. T’ to tears.
“We received messages from former students in Cayman and all over the world, who spoke of the impact that he had on their lives,” said Paul.
“It was heartwarming to see that all the love and dedication he gave to his students was reciprocated, and now we can all come together to celebrate that love and legacy,” Cathryn added.
A service of thanksgiving for the life of Derek Tyler will be held at the John Gray High School auditorium, on 23 Jan. His family requests people who attend the service wear ‘funky coloured socks’.