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MODEL/TEACHER ALTHEA LAING MARKS ANOTHER MILESTONE!

BY RICHARD JOHNSON—

 World-renowned model and veteran Althea Laing slays on the runway in this colorful, floor-length gown by Mutamba. (Bryan Cummings)—

SHE came into the nation’s consciousness back in 1985, after winning the Miss Jamaica Fashion Model competition. Althea Laing would later blaze a trail as the first local model to grace not one, but two covers of the popular American glossy Essence.

Today, Laing — a mother of two and grandmother to five — is closing a chapter on a career in the classroom as a teacher of English. Having turned 60 year’s old earlier this year, she is now on pre-retirement leave, but looks to the future with optimism.

“I don’t feel 60… What does that feel like anyway? And when I look in the mirror, it is certainly not 60 that I see,” she remarks, punctuated by her trademark laughter. “When I was growing up, once you reached this age you would just sit by your coffin and wait. But now, for me, this is such a lovely time of my life. It’s a time filled with introspection — examining the journey thus far and looking forward to where I have to go. So, right now, I am ‘re-tyring’ for the wonderful journey which lies ahead.”

According to the statuesque Laing, the years ahead will see her working smart. It’s no longer about putting in as many hours. No nine-to-five, five days a week. I am preparing myself to put in a number of solid days per month and be compensated. It’s consultancy and training for here on, she disclosed.

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Laing started her teaching career as a teenager after completing her teacher training at the Excelsior Community College. From then, it was on to schools such as Wolmer’s Boys’, Jamaica College, Black River Primary, Haile Selassie Secondary, Belair School and, most recently, May Day High.

“Going into teaching was a no-brainer for me… Both my parents were teachers and I just thought that was the route for me. My father wanted me to be a lawyer as I was the most expressive of his children, but teaching came naturally to me, plus it was easier to do.”

A series of events, including the breakdown of her marriage, a move to Ocho Rios, and meeting entertainment aficionado Weston Haughton would propel Laing into the world of modelling for which she is now best known. For her, these events are mileposts along the journey of her life.

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“When I won the contest I was 29 and everyone one said that I was too old, but I was determined to get more out of this thing, and it came with my Essence cover. I heard a team from Essence was in Jamaica and I positioned myself at the hotel in which they were staying and introduced myself. They were impressed and we maintained contact. When they wanted a real chocolate girl for the cover I flew to New York and did the shoot. I can’t explain the awesome feeling to stand in Manhattan and see my face on news-stands. This would create other opportunities, including a second Essence cover.”

She admits that she was before her time and had she come on the scene as a model years later, she would have had more success.

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“At the time, it was difficult to market me as a strong African-Caribbean woman… I was before my time. But I am happy, I was able to blaze a trail for these little, dark-skinned girls to follow. Because of me, these girls can now aspire to be on the cover of a magazine. I can also openly say I do not believe that I have been given the respect as a trailblazer, creating a path and opening doors for younger models,” Laing stated.

As she looks to the future, the former fashion model is channeling her energies into educating the youth, whether it is through the teaching of English language and literature, or through her personal development workshops and summer schools. She encourages educators not to give up on their students.

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“See each student as an individual. Each is different and, therefore, needs specialized attention. Do not write off any student saying this child has issues. I was a child with issues so I understand. Work with the personalities and encourage them and you will witness them blossom.”

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