In This Together
August 7, 2020 - By Melissa Carroll, Head of School
One of my dearest friends and mentors was a woman by the name of Gloria Smith. She was an unassuming woman who led an extraordinary life.
I first met Gloria in 1998 when she came to volunteer in my 3rd grade classroom. We soon became fast friends. For over 10 years, she came each week to teach. Gloria was a mother to many and she loved to read and garden and cook. She also loved children, especially the underserved. While these traits may not be noteworthy, what made them remarkable is that Gloria spent a lifetime in a wheelchair.
Gloria served as a Marine Sergeant in WWII and married after her service. She contracted Polio in 1952, shortly before the vaccine was discovered. At the time, she was pregnant with her daughter Robin. Gloria delivered Robin, a beautiful, healthy baby, while recovering in an iron lung, and she and her husband, Bob, went on to raise two more children after Robin. I learned after her passing that they “adopted” many other children along the way. No surprise, as I often felt she had taken me under her wing as a new teacher. Gloria became a teacher at the age of 50, after raising her children, and earning her Masters Degree as a Reading Specialist. She also served as a librarian, counselor and tutor.
Over the years, Gloria followed me as I moved to teach different grades. She was passionate about literature and insisted on bringing to life the characters in beloved books like Gentle Ben and The Once and Future King. She would pull from her pockets trinkets and photographs from her childhood that connected to the characters. And, on occasion, she would have Bob accompany her to act out a scene from a book. One of my third grade classes, at Gloria’s request, dragged Bob across the floor to demonstrate the weight of the dead deer from My Side of the Mountain. My classes were known to take field trips to her apartment to see how she managed life from a wheelchair and to bake cookies with her.
Gloria passed away in her late 80’s, after a rich, happy life. In the quiet moments of our friendship, she shared stories and the wisdom that comes from overcoming adversity. Always positive and hopeful, Gloria was never alone. Not in the lowest moments, was she ever alone. And, she attributed her happiness to that simple notion.
As I Iisten to the news and think about how to keep our community safe and healthy, I am reminded of Gloria. I am not alone and we are not alone. At Princeton Friends, we are surrounded by helpers. We are cared for by a community that values the physical, social and emotional well being of all.
This week, we took steps to educate the community about our safe return to school.
Abby Botts, our Guidance Counselor, and Kimberly Offner, School Nurse, will be on campus full time this year to support students and families. Abby is developing a Counselor’s Corner website that will provide helpful resources and guidance.
Each Wednesday, I am affirmed by our wise and capable faculty and staff. We meet virtually to stay apprised of new developments and prepare for our return. We are asking the hard questions and are supporting one another.
I take great comfort in knowing that we, as a community and a world, are in this together.
MelissaHead of SchoolPrinceton Friends School