Last Monday, the Town Council of Fort Myers Beach named a shocked Miffie Greer as the Outstanding Citizen of the Year for 2016 for her tireless volunteerism at Beach Elementary School (where she’s Secretary of the PTA) Chapel By the Sea (where she teaches Sunday School and serves with God’s Table), CERT, the Library Board and at Town Hall (where has served at the helm of the Community Resources Advisory Board since 2010 and on the Charter Review Commission last year). But many people who have met this dedicated, soft-spoken community leader have no idea of the life she led before coming to our emerald shores.
“I am originally from Ohio but moved to Texas where I got my Masters Degree in Education and raised my three kids,” Miffie began. “I’d always wanted to travel but realized the only way I could do that would be to work so as soon as my youngest was headed off to college I applied for an international education job.”
Greer was quickly offered a job with the International Schools program and soon found herself on her way to Singapore to work at the Singapore American School. That was in 1981. Once overseas, it didn’t take Miffie long to realize that something she initially thought she’d do for a couple of years would end up becoming a career.
“I was in Singapore first, then while I was there, a high school principal I knew moved to Kenya,” she told us. “He called, and in 1991 I went there and stayed until I retired in 2010. In International education, the world is divided into eight groups with an administrator for each one. I became the head of the Association of International Schools in Africa and lived in Nairobi – though I often traveled to do things like teacher training and attend conferences.”
Thirty years of being surrounded by people of many different cultures had a big effect on Miffie, who told us that it was more of a culture shock for her when she retired and returned to her condo on Fort Myers Beach than it was when she left.
“For one thing, over there you are a minority,” she said. “There is a whole difference in values, particularly in Africa – as there you see real poverty. People work hard and are so positive, loving and caring. And you get the opportunity to meet so many different kinds of people – in one school we had 67 nationalities – it really changes the perspective of what you are doing.”
Greer’s work was with the kids of parents who were international travelers themselves, often in business, so she got to see how this type of lifestyle affected the students she taught.
“We weren’t part of the local schools, our kids typically stayed two years in one country and moved on,” she said. “They were called ‘3rd Culture Kids’ because they didn’t belong to the culture they lived in or to that of their homeland, so they created their own. These kids were remarkable in that they could adapt anywhere. I think if more kids could have that experience growing up, the world would be a better place.”
Miffie gave us an example of this.
“When Desert Storm began and the rest of the world began taking sides, in my school in Singapore there were kids of all nationalities – warring nationalities – who were hugging and comforting each other,” she said. “It was a wonderful experience.”
In 1991, Miffie lost her house in Houston during the oil crisis so she returned to the United States to find a home base.
“I traveled all over the country looking,” she said. “I came to southwest Florida as a kid when my dad lived in Cape Coral, and I loved it, so in Christmas of 1991 I bought a condominium on Fort Myers Beach and that’s where I came back to – usually for a month in the summer.”
It was also here that Greer came, at the age of 75, when she reluctantly decided to retire in 2010.
“At first, I had a really hard time coming back because I had no one to talk to, no one could relate to what it was like,” she said. “I’d be with a group of people talking about what they did last New Year’s and think ‘I was in Timbuktu last New Year’s – how can I relate to this?’”
Miffie also found herself painfully missing her work and her students. To overcome this, she knew she’d have to find a way to find the joy she felt helping others by becoming immersed in her new permanent home.
“I volunteered at the Library – that’s how it started,” she said. “I swore to myself I’d stay out of education since that’s what I’d done for 53 years, and I pretty much have stayed out – which has allowed me to expand my own skills and find areas where I can contribute.”
As Miffie gradually adjusted to her new life, she fell in love with the people she met on the island and formed a whole new group of friends.
“After the Library, I got involved with the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT), then Chapel By the Sea where I serve as an elder, help with Sunday School and also feed people every Friday when we have God’s Table,” she said. “I really enjoy that because they are all such nice people. Some of them are homeless, some not, but they all have a history unique to them like the rest of us do – I don’t understand why some people put them down. There but for the grace of God go all of us, really.”
Greer was appointed to the Community Resources Advisory Board (CRAB) in October of 2010, becoming Chair when Jim Rodwell left. Under her leadership, the advisory committee has flourished – hosting two Leadership Conferences and designing new signs for the beach accesses, among other things. She also served on the Charter Review Commission last year, helping to shape the future of our island by recommending changes to the 20-year-old charter.
“When I get involved with things at Town Hall, I feel like this is what democracy is supposed to be,” she said. “I really don’t feel that my opinions matter much in the national elections, but here I know all the council members personally, they listen to everyone because they live in the community, and one voice really can make a difference. That’s one of the reasons why I love the island so much! And newcomers are accepted here too – we have this incredible fabric of old-timers and new that truly work together. It’s really important because it makes the community so much tighter.”
Despite Miffie’s resolve not to get involved in education, she did wind up as Secretary of Beach Elementary’s Parent Teacher Association (PTA) when she agreed to take on the task of caring for her two grandsons while her son – who is a flight attendant – is away.
“Both boys go to Beach School, and they are very active,” she told us. “So this was surprising, but very wonderful, to be their caretaker. I’m probably the oldest soccer mom on the field, but I’m there and I love it!”
When talking with Miffie, one realizes that love extends to everything she does and to her circle of adoring friends, who she took to Africa a few years ago. One of them, Ceel Spuhler, nominated Greer for the award.
“I realize being a good friend of this recipient I am prejudiced but when looking at her accomplishments that are all tied to the welfare of the town, I feel she is most deserving,” Spuhler wrote. “Her energy and outlook on life evidences that age is no problem. She always responds when there is need of helping in any way she can…It is a privilege to know her.”
These days, Miffie says she is content and happy with her life on Fort Myers Beach.
“That trip to Africa, that helped a lot with closure,” she said. “There’s so much to do and get involved with on this island. Also, I have six grandchildren – with a great-grandchild coming in October – and they love the beach and visit a lot.”
But that doesn’t mean that Greer has entirely shaken the traveling bug from her system.
“I’ve been to all seven continents – including Antarctica,” she said, with a twinkle in her eye. “But one place I haven’t been is to Fiji and Bora Bora, so….you never know!”
Keri Hendry Weeg