Paulette Beatty was born in Brussels, Belgium, in 1944, the day Allied troops liberated the city from Nazi Germany toward the end of World War II.
Beatty’s mother ran a hotel, where she hid Jews during the war.
Beatty recalls American troops frequenting the hotel’s bar and bringing her chewing gum. “I fell in love with the Americans,” she said.
Beatty became an American citizen herself 42 years ago. She now lives in South Charlotte, where she has taught French at Charlotte Country Day School for the last 42 years.
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It was not, however, a straight path from Brussels to the Queen City.
At age 10, Beatty moved to Argentina with her parents and older sister to live with her two paternal uncles and their families. They were seeking a fresh start in Buenos Aires after Beatty’s father, a Polish lightweight champion boxer, gambled away the family’s money.
Beatty returned to Europe in 1960 at 16 to earn an undergraduate degree, then studied languages at Goethe University in Frankfurt. Her fluency in English, Spanish and French yielded a job as a translator for a colonel at the U.S. Armed Forces procurement office in Frankfurt.
While working as a translator, Beatty met a U.S. soldier, whom she married and with whom she moved to the U.S.
“It was a huge culture shock,” Beatty said of her move to Maiden in 1964. “I couldn’t drive and I knew no one.”
When her children – Alex, now 50, and Natalie, 47 – were in school, Beatty took a position teaching French at Northstate Academy, a private school that had just opened in Hickory.
“I found my niche,” Beatty said of her foray into teaching. “I loved the kids, and I also got involved in the capital campaign for the school and learned that I was good at raising money.”
When her husband announced the family was moving from rural North Carolina to Charlotte in 1971, Beatty was devastated.
“I had such a good thing going at Northstate Academy,” Beatty said, and she knew she wanted to find that again in Charlotte.
She also knew that her marriage was over, she said, and she divorced shortly after moving. She met Jim Beatty in 1974, and the two married in 1976.
Beatty joined the Country Day School staff as a French substitute teacher in 1972 and was hired full-time the following year to teach French, Spanish and German. She has been at the school since.
She assumed several positions of leadership at Country Day over the years, from head of the language department to getting involved in three capital campaigns as the school’s director of public relations and marketing. She also recruited international students and started an English as a Second Language program.
While she has taken two brief breaks from teaching to work on capital campaigns, teaching is what Beatty loves most, she said.
“I’ve changed them and they’ve changed me,” Beatty said of the hundreds of students she has taught, some the children of former students.
For Beatty, whom students call “Madame,” teaching keeps her feeling young.
“I love kids,” she said. “I love being with them and I love the way they think.”
The feeling is mutual: Beatty retired two years ago, but students wrote to the administration to request she continue teaching. She does so now on a part-time basis, and her three grandchildren now attend the school.
“They are getting a great education,” Beatty said. “They have the continuity and stability that I never had.”
Katya Lezin is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Katya? Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.