Jamaica has long maintained a strong presence at the National Spelling Bee. The Jamaica Gleaner's representatives, marked by their lilting patois accents and unerring politesse, have always been a welcome and beloved aspect of the bee. (National participants and audience members know how the Jamaicans always say "Thank you, sir" to the pronouncer, Dr. Bailly, after every question they ask.) I suspect that Rev. Archer helped to hold Jamaica's representatives to such a high standard of behavior.
And Jamaica's performance at the National Spelling Bee is uniformly excellent. With the help of Rev. Archer's tutelage, spellers from Jamaica frequently ascend to the levels of the semifinals - the top 50 or so spellers in the whole competition. Quite often, they spell their way to the top 12 or so competitors remaining in the finals. (This accomplishment is made even more impressive by the fact that each Jamaican speller attends the National Spelling Bee only once.) And in 1998, Jody-Anne Maxwell became the first speller from outside the United States to win the whole competition, at the relatively young age of 12. She perfectly negotiated her way through the tricky daedal before clinching the championship with chiaroscurist. Jody Anne’s excitement was contagious, and images and videos of her being draped in the Jamaican flag in triumph were unforgettable. Standing next to her, also in triumph, was her coach, the Reverend Glen Archer.
Jody-Anne Maxwell's victory was not Rev. Archer's only high-profile success. In Jamaica, he coached 26 spellers to first place in the All-Island Spelling Bee, held every year since 1960. And in 1997, Jamaica began participating at the Scripps National Spelling Bee as well, well-represented by Jason James, who earned a very impressive eighth place.
I had the honor of meeting Rev. Archer at the 2012 National Spelling Bee, when Frank Cahill, a speller I had been coaching from the Denver area, became a finalist and eventually placed 7th in the nation. Rev. Archer was, like the spellers he coached, unerringly polite and very pleasant to talk to. Although I never had the chance to speak with him after that short interaction, I gained a great respect for him, and was always happy to see him each year.
Rev. Archer had long struggled with chronic kidney disease; in December, he also contracted the Chikungunya virus, further complicating his efforts to regain his health. And on the morning of February 15th, he suffered a fatal stroke. Jamaica has lost a great teacher and mentor. But Jamaica can take tremendous pride in the accomplishments of its spellers and of Rev. Archer. He will be missed.