Hilary Bates came to Oldfields from Spain in 1987. There was something special about her from the start, but it was impossible to foresee the immense influence she would have on Oldfields over the next 32 years--on students and colleagues alike.
Hilary was joined as a faculty member in 1989 by her husband, Justo, a beloved, longtime science and math teacher. They lived in the Garden House dorm where Hilary served as Head Dorm Parent for 19 years, from 1987 to 2006. Their daughter, Nuria, grew up to graduate from Oldfields in 2001.
Hilary began as a Spanish teacher, and it was clear that Spanish literature, history, and culture were just as important to her as the language itself. Hilary shared, “It is an awakening into another culture in the pursuit of understanding and delighting in all the aspects of a language and everything that this language and culture entails.” Living in Spain for 13 years while training in dance, she met Justo. They return to their beloved Spain every summer.
Becoming Chair of the World Language Department in 2000, Hilary also taught yoga and embraced the Global Awareness Club, organizing our popular Global Awareness Day celebration that takes place every other year. This only touches the surface of the myriad ways in which she has been involved in the life of the School.
How does one capture Hilary’s spirit and influence in words? Best leave that to those whose lives she impacted.
Charlie Beaulé ’19 - Ms. Bates was the teacher of a lifetime. I came into her class with already five years of Spanish, yet I learnt and improved more in the 3 years I took her class than those five years put together. She’s the teacher you never knew you needed. She always kept her classes grounded and honest. You never knew what to expect when walking into her classroom. Sometimes a ten minute story of how she came to love Spanish dance or how she met Mr. Anguita would be the surprise of the day. However it could also be her telling the class to be quiet and sitting on her desk while doing a yoga pose to demonstrate the meaning of a word.
Overall, you learned more than just Spanish in her classes. You learned about the Spanish culture, to doubt your preconceptions about the world, and most importantly, to have confidence in yourself. Oh, and of course to never put the negative after the verb.
Cam Brooks-Miller ’15 - Hilary Bates is such a spectacular person, and could probably have an entire magazine published with her recipes, stories, book recommendations, and supporters. Ms. Bates was one of the most important teachers I’ve ever had. And while I don’t speak Spanish, I’m working toward a future in Portugal (inspired by her stories from abroad). At Oldfields, I felt very cynical about the world and criticized so much. I think Ms. Bates saw this, and understood it in some capacity. Her humor and support and brutal honesty worked as the foundation which got me out of that outlook. I looked up to her on Glencoe Island, and still do. Throughout college, I thought about writing a letter to Ms. Bates and the impact she had on my life, but I’m still struggling to find the words. Ultimately, she was the person who helped me realize that it’s okay to be the person you are, as long as you’re happy. And if you’re not—change. I think Hilary Bates is an absolute gem of a human being. Anyone who knows her is lucky. I am so, so lucky to have had several years of Spanish with her. I probably won’t be fluent anytime soon, but I’ll be carrying her lessons with me the rest of my life: find humor where there is none, respect the people around you, share knowledge, laugh, bake delicious cookies and share them, but practice self-restraint. Thank you for opportunity to reflect on my time with Ms. Bates. Writing this brought tears to my eyes, and I wish her the best in the future. Please give her a huge hug for me!
Rayven Vinson ’10 - It's so hard to encapsulate the impact that Ms. Bates had on my life while at Oldfields. Like many Oldfields teachers, she wore a lot of hats -- she was the adviser to the Global Awareness Club, taught Spanish dance during one of the spring sports seasons, and was the coordinator for the May Program trip to Argentina my senior year. I really came to know her and spend a lot of one-on-one time with her when I took AP Spanish, as I was the only student in that class.
There is a joy and a fire in the spirit with which Ms. Bates taught Spanish. It was never just a class. It was her enveloping us as students in an experience. A cultural exchange between a new generation of Spanish speakers and the history of the language and the people who spoke it before us. It was like she wanted to ignite in use the passion that brought her to Spain so many years ago when she, as she used to tell us, would dance for 16 hours a day.
But she wasn't just a teacher. She was also like a mother to me. She was someone who I knew I could go to when I needed help. I put a lot of pressure on myself in school to excel academically because in aspiring to become a first-generation college student, I was mortified that if I didn't get a scholarship to college, I would never be able to afford to go. It was easy to lose sight of the fact that I was still just a kid, and the weight of the world wasn't, in fact, on my shoulders. Ms. Bates had a way of bringing me back down to Earth and letting me know that it was going to be okay. I can still so vividly remember the smell of the chai tea that she would make in her office just before class or the cups we shared together as I hung out in her office talking about life.
I went on from Oldfields to get a degree in Spanish and study abroad in Spain—all thanks to the love for the language and culture that Ms. Bates helped nurture in me years before. I wish her the best in her retirement. After decades of service to the girls at Oldfields, she deserves every day of rest and relaxation in her future.
Hannah Cutshall ’01 - I was so lucky to know and learn from Ms. Bates. Her passion for the Spanish language and culture was contagious. Ms. Bates encouraged in me a curiosity and fascination with Spanish language, history, politics, and literature that I have carried with me throughout my life. Some of my fondest memories of Oldfields took place in Ms. Bates’s Spanish class and in the Garden House dorm with her and her family, where I was lucky to be placed as a freshman. Thank you for being so willing to share your love of Spanish with your students, Ms. Bates, and also for your banana bread recipe. ¡Felicidades!
Liza Scully Suarez ’99 - I wrote my senior presentation on Ms. Bates, so I think of this of an extension of that, a part II, if you will. Hilary is the reason for where I am today. As a 16-year-old walking into a new Spanish class at a new school, I had no idea the impact she would have on my life. It’s because of her that I learned not only the mechanics of the language, but how to actually speak it. More importantly, though, I experienced a true love for learning that would take me to study abroad in Spain and eventually end up teaching Spanish myself. Every day I am in the classroom, I hope that I am igniting the same passion in students for language-learning and for discovery of the world at large that she ignited in me. Thank you, Hilary, for shaping my life in such a profound way. Though we aren’t close in proximity to each other these days, you are with me always.
Hawley Rogers (1969-1997) - During her long tenure at Oldfields the community has been uplifted daily by Hilary's warm smile and laughter, tokens of her respect for all who were fortunate enough to be her student, her advisee, or her colleague. She brought to all her relationships a keen wit, true empathy, passion, and an intellect that enriched her classes and broadened the perspective of all who knew her. Wendy and I were fortunate to have been her next door neighbors when she and Justo were living in the original Garden House dormitory. We so very much appreciated the way she included us in the life of the dorm, giving us the precious gift of student contact and dorm life that we would not otherwise have enjoyed.
Fred Bielaszka-DuVernay (2010-present) - In all the years I have been working with Hilary, I considered her as a friend, somebody you can really trust and open up to, as a very nice colleague with an impressive knowledge, and as someone to go to if you wanted to find true support for the faculty.
Mary McQuinn-Vinyard (2000-present) - Hilary became more than just a department chair to me; she would also be like a mom, a mentor, and most importantly, she has been a good friend to me over these past 19 years. I have learned so much more than just Spanish teaching tips from her. She showed me what it looked like to feel passionate about something, and how to look out for every single member of our department. In the classroom, she taught me that often the best learning happened beyond a textbook. Hilary taught me that one could learn just as much from her students as they could learn from her. Thank you for all that you have done for me and for this community.
Dotty Hordubay (1966-2000) - I first met Hilary when she came to interview at Oldfields. We (my husband Joe and I) were her hosts, so we had ample time to chat about our lives. I was most impressed with her diverse background and talents, especially Spanish dance. She was perfect for Oldfields both in and out of the classroom. At the time our daughter Kathleen was studying in Madrid so an immediate connection was established as Hilary and Justo were living in Madrid. Hilary graciously accepted a "care" package to carry back to Madrid for Kathleen so there was another link in the chain. We really enjoyed our years with Hilary and Justo. We were delighted to wish Justo the best for his retirement and are thrilled that Hilary is now joining him. Wonderful memories cement our friendship.
Maribeth Littlefield P’07 (1981-present) - I don't think I ever had a brief conversation with Hilary Bates in the 34 years I have known her. This is because there was such a passion for whatever the topic was that day. It is a passion for life that has always inspired me about Hilary. We could be talking world politics, art, food, a situation at work, or a yoga experience, and it was infused with the same wonder and passion that reflected her approach to everything. A consummate professional who never stopped caring for her students and advisees and never stopped trying to help them and find a better path for them. Her laugh is one of the most infectious I have ever heard, and I shall miss that energy and smile. Students and faculty have been so lucky to have had Hilary touch their lives.
Dori Reigner (1978-present) - What I admire most about Hilary is her ability to always speak her mind with clarity and conviction whenever she feels compelled to discuss an issue. Her appreciation for the differences and similarities of all people and the respect she has for each person’s opinions and their intrinsic value is evident in her ability to listen carefully. She also has a great sense of humor!
As she now follows Justo into retirement, Hilary deserves not only rest and relaxation but also the thanks and admiration of all whose lives she touched. Whenever we think of dance, of yoga, of Spain, of banana bread, we’ll think of Hilary with immense fondness and all the good wishes in the world.