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‘Abbott Elementary’ Star Lisa Ann Walter Gets Real About Her Mom’s Inspiration, the Real-Life ‘Barbara Howard’ & More

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Lisa Ann Walter.
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Lisa Ann Walter, 60, is exactly how you'd expect her to be—sweet, funny, full of arresting anecdotes and quippy one-liners. She's known for playing a tough cookie with a big heart, from her role as Chessy in The Parent Trap to her current part as Melissa Schemmenti in Abbott Elementary. And while her two best-known characters demonstrate a clear fondness for kids, it seems she comes by that love naturally. Walter plays a teacher on Abbott, but her mother was an educator in real life, which has influenced the actress in many ways. If you need proof, just look at how the Maryland native spent her most recent birthday—collaborating with BIC to provide school supplies for teachers.

PureWow recently sat down with Walter, where we discussed everything from her collaboration with BIC to her junior high instructor who was the most like Abbott's Barbara Howard (played by Sheryl Lee Ralph).

walter hero2 1
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Walter was born in Silver Spring, Maryland, and despite her father's work taking the family to Germany for a few years, she has the fondest memories of her instructors from Montgomery County.

“The teacher that was my favorite was my middle school English teacher,” Walter recounts. “She taught Advanced English—Mrs. Freddye Davy.” According to Walter, Davy was one of the first teachers to work at an integrated school in America (see the late teacher's obituary, which notes that she worked in rural schools in Arkansas early in her career). As a result, Walter says that Mrs. Davy took education very seriously.

“She reminded me a lot of Barbara Howard on Abbott,” Walter says. “She spoke very elegantly and if I started mouthing in class, she knew it was cause I was bored...so if I was mouthing off, she would hand me the chalk and say, ‘Come teach, Miss Walter. If you know the subject, come teach it.’”

Still from 'Abbott Elementary.'
ABC/Gilles Mingasson

Turns out, Walter was a natural even before she took on the role of Melissa. She says that Mrs. Davy would tell her: “Well, you're very good at this, you should be a teacher.”

This ease in front of a classroom makes sense, given that Walter's own mother was an educator. Many days felt like Take Your Daughter to Work Day, because her mom actually worked as a substitute teacher at her junior high, which she says was “delightful.”

“I remember that at the beginning of junior high, I was a little embarrassed,” Walter confesses. “But then when I saw...she was a no-nonsense broad. She was not gonna take anyone's mess.”

Quickly, Walter's friends fell in love with her mother: “You know, my friends loved her. They just thought she was a hoot. So, I didn't mind it as much in the ongoing years.”

Lisa Ann Walter.
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As far as how her mother influenced the way she views teachers, Walter says, “Being the child of a teacher, it's not weird when you see them out in the wild...they're just people. They're people that have [their own issues].”

The Life's Work creator says that watching her mom go through a divorce and deal with depression really helped her understand that instructors had their own struggles outside of the classroom. “In the way that Quinta put the show [Abbott] together, it's that all teachers are like that...Who you are as a human being informs who you are as a teacher,” Walter says.

It's this close connection with the people who educate our youth that inspired Walter to collaborate with BIC. As Walter notes, the supplies that students are able to purchase isn't always equitable, and this doesn't go unnoticed by teachers. “No teacher is gonna let that kid sit there with their no. 2 pencil and nothing else. They’re gonna try to get them at least some supplies.”

So, on her birthday, August 3, the now-60-year-old hosted a “Back to School Supply Closet,” funded by BIC, to help collect supplies for teachers. “There’s nothing more important than helping...it's not the teacher's kids, it's our kids,” Walter declares.

Lisa Ann Walter.
Noam Galai/Getty Images

While the event may have already passed, you can still donate here through the Kids in Need Foundation, where BIC will provide $24 of supplies for every dollar donated.

“Honestly, the fact that we can't get it together as a country to pay [teachers] what is deserved to show them the respect that they deserve to teach the next generation of Americans—the least we can do is help to get them the supplies they need,” Walter adds.

Sounds straight from the mouth of Melissa Schemmenti. We couldn't agree more.

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Associate Editor, News and Entertainment

Joel is the Associate Editor for News & Entertainment and has been reporting on all things pop culture for over 5 years. Before working at PureWow, he served as a Features...