Feature - Kathleen McCook
The story of Kathleen McCook, a 91-year-old former librarian with an incredible memory
Filmed and edited by Tara Knott
Photos courtesy of Kathleen McCook and Laurie Evans, Belmont Village
Tags: Belmont University Journal Tara Knott Sybril Bennett Kathleen McCook librarian memory techniques college
Added: 3 years ago
[scene opens with various shots of students studying in the library of Belmont University]
TARA KNOTT: [in voice over] With final exams quickly approaching, college students everywhere are trying desperately to remember everything they've learned all semester long. Perhaps they should take notes from this woman ...
[cut to a still image of an elderly woman]
TARA KNOTT: [in voice over] Ninety one year old Kathleen McCook. Ask her to recite a poem for you, and her only question is ... "How many would you like to hear?"
[cut to the woman speaking directly to the camera]
KATHLEEN MCCOOK: I could almost hear a poem once, and know it. Somebody said to me one day, "You must spent your entire childhood memorizing poems." I never memorized poems, at all.
[cut to an exterior shot of Belmont University]
TARA KNOTT: [in voice over] At Belmont University, psychology professor Doctor Lonnie Yandell said even his colleagues have a hard time figuring out what makes a memory stick.
[cut to the male professor speaking directly to the camera]
LONNIE YANDELL: Long term memory is by far the most complicated kinda memory, because actually ... um, it's still a pretty big mystery how we get so much information into our memory.
[cut to a closeup of one of the bookshelves in the library]
TARA KNOTT: [in voice over] Yandell said McCook, a former librarian, may remember poems more easily because she's emotionally connected to them.
[cut to a still image of a page featuring Myra Welch's "Touch of the Master's Hand"]
TARA KNOTT: [in voice over] And that's certainly the case with one of her favorite poems, "The Touch of the Master's Hand." Five stanzas, two hundred and seventy six words, and McCook didn't miss a single one.
[cut back to McCook speaking directly to the camera]
KATHLEEN MCCOOK: "And many a man with life out of tune, and battered and scarred by sin, if offered cheap to the thoughtless crowd, much like the old violin. A mess of pottage, a glass of wine, a game and he travels on. He's going once, he's going twice, he's going and almost gone. But the master comes, and the foolish crowd can never quite understand, the worth of a soul and the change that's wrought by the touch of the master's hand."
["To see McCook recite the full poem, visit www dot belmontjournal dot com" appears on screen]
TARA KNOTT: [in voice over] For the Belmont Journal, this is Tara Knott.
Kathleen McCook's body may be confined to an electric wheelchair, but her mind certainly knows no bounds.
The former librarian and home economics teacher, 91, remembers countless poems and can recite them at a moment's notice, a talent she discovered as a teenager.
"I was at a young people's conference with a friend – I was about 15 years old – and I heard a man recite the poem, 'The Touch of the Master's Hand,'" McCook said. "I could say the poem, and I don't ever remember trying to memorize it."
That poem became one of her favorites, and she can still recite it word-for-word to this day, along with many, many others.
It could be the repetitive structure, the rhyme, or rehearsing the poems over and over again throughout the years, but McCook said she hopes she just has a good memory. After all, when you've lived 91 years, there are quite a few things you don't want to forget.