Love and Loss in an Elementary School – Why Relationships Matter.

Peggy Marston: Veteran teacher, special educator, long time district employee, friend, free spirit.  Marie Twitchell: Veteran teacher, mother, special educator, supporter, friend, and believer.
Gail St. Germain: Office aid, mother, grandmother, multi-tasker, caregiver, friend.

Shared via Linkedin
Shared via Linkedin

This week, I learned that a former staff member of mine, Gail St. Germain, passed away unexpectedly.  Gail was a constant in the Greene Central School office for many, many years.  She was known by the entire school community and she was a remarkable person.  There wasn’t a tear she couldn’t dry when scraped knees and hurt feelings made their way to the office, there wasn’t a job too big or too small that Gail couldn’t do, willingly I might add, and there wasn’t a day that she didn’t have a joke, or story to tell, or that she would take a minute to listen to a colleague, or a principal like me, that needed a good sounding board.  If there was s student in need, Gail would find them.  Boots, hats, mittens, you name it.  Large copying job, or supplies needed for a project, Gail was the go to person.  Somehow, at one point, she got the nickname “Hank”, which I probably laughed with her about a million times.  Gail was always there, for everyone, every minute of her day.

Peggy Marston was doubtful about my work initially.  She told me so in my office one day after I first started. It was hard for her to believe that we could hold a thoughtful IEP meeting that would only last an hour.  Peggy spent countless hours working to support special education students at Greene Central School, putting endless time into scouring over reports, calling parents, explaining test results, for the benefit of children.  Peggy felt that it was her job to not inadvertently label a child that wasn’t disabled, and she also felt that it was her job to support students and parents through the IEP process and beyond. Peggy also loved laughter. She was the loudest person in the room, and quite often, the funnest. This was evidenced through my interactions with her in building construction meetings, staff meetings, and when she came to my office after I worked in the school for a period of time and let me know I had proved her wrong, and that she liked how things were working out at the school.  She was a devoted colleague and often times, would provide much needed listening for friends and coworkers. It was a shock to me and her colleagues, getting a call at school letting us know that Peggy had passed away unexpectedly in her sleep.  A 26 year teacher, friend, and presence gone.

And then there was Marie Twitchell.  Marie worked with me when I got my first administrative job just outside of Augusta, Maine.  She worked with special education students, and many I may add, that sometimes not only had learning difficulties, but challenges in regulating behaviors as well.  Marie treated those students with the utmost dignity, especially after extremely disruptive and dangerous behaviors.  She held them in high regard, working to get them the help that they needed.  Afterwards, sharing a sigh of relief with me in my office, sometimes brainstorming another way to support, or just getting some much needed release after a tense situation.  Marie was the type of person that would send you a funny post card while on a trip, or would get you a quirky Christmas ornament for your tree.  I remember laughing out loud when she sent me a funny post card from her trip to San Francisco and had a clever closing in the note.  Marie’s colleagues appreciated her, as she was active in the school community, professionally, and personally.

When I left my job in Hall Dale, I did not realize the impact that my leadership had on Marie.  We worked together for four years, and my departure from the district, along with other changes, left her with a diminished feeling about her work.  After the passing of Peggy Marston, I called Marie to talk and I let her know that I had an opening, and shared the circumstances around the job.  Marie wanted to come back and work for me, and I was excited to have her join me again, supporting students and creating a school culture where students were valued, as much as the joy of teaching and helping others.

It wasn’t long after Marie joined me for a second time, that she began to not feel well, and after a series of medical appointments, doctor visits, and absences, Marie received bad news.  She had lung cancer, and the disease had progressed in such a way that it was not able to be treated and save her.  In late October of 2005, I sat down and wrote a letter to Marie, sharing with her my thoughts about our working relationship, and the friendship we had developed.  I had planned a visit to her home, and my intent was to give her the letter, asking her to wait and open it after I left.  I knew going into that visit that I could not be there when she read my letter.

Marie Twitchell: Colleague, Friend, Educator
Marie Twitchell: Colleague, Friend, Educator

In November of 2005, Marie Twitchell passed away, leaving behind a family, and history of helping students and colleagues.  Marie read my letter after I left from my visit that fall day, I got a call from her family asking that I be a pall bearer at her funeral and if I would be willing to read the letter during a gathering after the funeral.  I was touched, and realized that I had not known the impact I had on Marie, her work, and the lives of children.

I looked for that letter this morning and found it on my computer.  I’m sharing a link to the letter with you in this blog post. Although deeply personal, it only begins to underscore what I believe to be the importance of relationships in education and in life.  I had an impact on someone so great, that they wanted to work for me, even in the very last stages of their life.  You can read the letter HERE.

Because of these relationships, and the impact they had on me and students, there isn’t a moment during any given day, that I do not underscore the importance of relationships by being a good colleague, listening, and most importantly, rallying around the needs of students, our common cause.

Peggy, Marie and Gail you will continue to serve as inspiration to me. You were generous with your time, your kindness, and dedication to students and colleagues and you helped me, and still help me realize why relationships matter most.

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