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Tuesday, September 02, 2014

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Beloved principal's spirit, nurturing remembered

Updated 11:10 am, Thursday, May 15, 2014

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  • Mary Michelson, Tokeneke School principal, had big shoes to fill after MaryLee Fisher retired in 2011. Fisher, who died in November, was celebrated during a special program May 10, when several parents, teachers and former students talked about how much of a difference she made in their lives.
Jarret Liotta/For the Darien News Photo: Contributed Photo, Contributed / Darien News
    Mary Michelson, Tokeneke School principal, had big shoes to fill after MaryLee Fisher retired in 2011. Fisher, who died in November, was celebrated during a special program May 10, when several parents, teachers and former students talked about how much of a difference she made in their lives. Jarret Liotta/For the Darien News Photo: Contributed Photo, Contributed

 

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If the positive changes we make in the lives of others are one way of ensuring immortality, MaryLee Fisher clearly will live on forever.

A celebration of the life of Fisher, the beloved former principal of Tokeneke School, took place Saturday morning, as hundreds of attendees -- family members, friends and former students -- gathered to share memories of Fisher, who died in November of pancreatic cancer.

"She really did add a special spirit to the school," parent Holly Galper said.

"She knew the name of every child," parent Mary Harmon said. "It really built a sense of community."

Friends and colleagues shared their favorite recollections of Fisher, who spent 15 years as Tokeneke principal until 2011. They described her as a warm, caring woman with a great sense of humor.

"She was one of the most colorful people that I've ever known -- positive and happy -- and she really just loved teaching and being around children in the school," said Joslyn DeLancey, a fifth-grade teacher at the school.

DeLancey spoke on behalf of the staff, fighting emotion as she shared her recollections.

"MaryLee mothered us all into finding the best versions of ourselves," she said. "Mrs. Fisher's genuinely altruistic nature and unwavering support allowed for us to grow as a community and thrive as teachers, students and friends."

A former Tokeneke student, Julia O'Brien, 13, said, "She was the nicest teacher I ever met. She was always so kind and helping everyone."

Fisher was known to always leave everyone with a positive thought, even at times when there was serious business to discuss.

"She always had a hug for the kids, and for us," parent Erinn Denson said.

"It was supposed to rain today and the sun came out -- bright and sunny," a perfect metaphor for Fisher's life, Denson said. "It's a great representation of MaryLee and her spirit and how much we love her."

Kathy Schultz, the assistant principal who worked with Fisher for five years, said, "She was amazing -- so creative, artistic and loving. She set a tone in our building that still stands today.

"I find it extremely fitting that we celebrate MaryLee on the weekend of Mother's Day. Mother's Day is a time that we honor people who give of themselves with their whole heart and soul ... MaryLee was the mother to the children of Tokeneke for 15 years."

Former Tokeneke student Brooke Laird, 14, remembered how involved Fisher was with the children.

"She would come into the classrooms and welcome everyone, and she knew everyone's name," she said.

And parent Trey Laird added, "She was always there. The door was always open, always accessible."

Fisher also was known for her attention to details.

"MaryLee tried to make everything special," said her sister, Willa Spicer. "Not just lollipops would do. MaryLee had only Tootsie Pops.

"While she was a superstar educator, in spirit she was an artist, and if you look around the school today, you see that spirit."

Spicer recalled her sister's love of breakfast from McDonald's, as well as her special cooking for the family.

"She also made for the family green eggs and ham, and my own personal favorite, purple mashed potatoes," she said.

"We carry her memory like a parasol, protecting us from hypocrisy, from pretense and, most of all, from phoniness. She was a fine lady who found joy wherever she could and was willing and able to share it with all of us."

In addition to being "just so fun," close friend Carol Tomassini said Fisher "was so caring and nurturing, and she was always there for us."

Tokeneke secretary Judi Muro wrapped up the sentiments of the day. "I have to say, no one anywhere compared to MaryLee. As sad as we all feel, we will all keep her in our hearts for all that she did and all that she was."

Jarret Liotta is a freelance writer.