SAN AUGUSTINE, Texas (KETK)–For more than 50 years San Augustine ISD educator Mary Whittlesey has been a beacon of light for both students and staff.
News of her sudden passing on Monday morning has shaken the Wolf Nation to its core.
“She was one of a kind and I think you’ll find people that say that all the time about Mrs. Whittlesey,” said Dr. Virginia Liepman, San Augustine ISD Superintendent.
For the first time in more than half a century San Augustine middle schoolers will be without their beloved English teacher Mrs. Whittlesey.
To faculty and staff’s knowledge Mrs. Whittlesey had no health problems nor did she have any reason to be in the hospital, which is why her sudden death came as such a shock.
“It was devastating because I was expecting to walk in yesterday morning and Mrs. Whittlesey be waiting for me to start our staff development and get ready for our kiddos to come to school,” said Kim Holloway, San Augustine Middle School principal.
When she wasn’t at her post inside the front office first thing in the morning, no one could have imagined the reason behind her absence.
“She was 79 years old and she moved better than I did most days so you almost feel like she was invincible and to hear that news it was kind of shocking to believe it was actually her,” said Tory Barnes, San Augustine teacher and coach.
Mrs. Whittlesey was a 1959 graduate of Deweyville ISD and a 1962 graduate of Stephen F. Austin State University.
She taught for 56 years, the last 52 in San Augustine.
In that time she spent 45 years as a cheerleading sponsor and also served as a UIL director.
“She was at all the student’s events; I would see her at the band hall if the band was preparing to leave for a competition, she would be at the football games, basketball games, volleyball games, she was just involved totally with her kids,” said Dr. Liepman.
In April 2019 she was the SAISD Spotlight; in her own words when asked when she knew she wanted to be a teacher she said “From the age of eleven, I knew that I wanted to be a teacher. I was inspired by my high school English teacher to become an English teacher.”
Her dedication to her job showed from day one.
“She was one of a kind and when I say that, I say that and I truly mean it,” said Holloway. “She was very involved in her student’s life at school and out of school because she knew that was important building that relationship with the student and the parent to get the child to where they needed to be.”
Not only was she involved in her students lives, but she also knew how to push her students to be better than they ever knew including student-turned-colleague Tory Barnes.
“She was great at getting kids to do what they didn’t want to do and what they didn’t believe they could do in order to achieve their goals in the end,” said Barnes. “I can tell you this much, English was not my favorite subject but I went to college and English was my minor, she molded me into, beginning to, like English.”
Mrs. Whittlesey’s efforts didn’t stop at the classroom door, to her being a teacher a was a round-the-clock job similar to being a parent.
“Mrs. Whittlesey loved the children not just here at school but she loved them enough (she would) call their parents and be part of their lives at home,” said Dr. Liepman. “I think that was wonderful because the parents felt like she loved their children and she did.”
Now all that remain are stories, stories her friends, students and coworkers will cherish forever.
“One evening I saw her at a baseball game and one of her students was sitting in the stands and she said ‘now I hope you’re doing your homework’ and they had actually brought their homework to the baseball field because they knew Mrs. Whittlesey would be there watching,” said Dr. Virginia Liepman.
Her former students can still remember ways to get under her skin.
“Her biggest pet peeve, when you were in her class writing she hated for you to use the word ‘stuff’,” said Barnes. “‘Stuff’ just really really got on her nerves and so she wanted you to go in detail and describe what the ‘stuff’ was that you were talking about.”
Most of all people remember who she was in public.
“People gravitated toward her because they loved her and if you didn’t gravitate toward her she was going to come to you,” said Holloway. “She was a phenomenal educator and just the love for her did show.”
Mrs. Whittlesey’s colleagues, students, their parents and a few of their grandparents know she can never be replaced.