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Friends and faculty members gathered in 1997 to honor Marilee Fitzpatrick, center, on her retirement as principal.

Marilee Fitzpatrick was many things to her staff during her 17-year tenure as principal of Periwinkle Elementary School: a friend, a confidant, a steady source of support.

More than anything, though, her colleagues remember her as a champion of education. And they want the rest of Albany to remember her that way, too, which is why they're creating a scholarship in her name through the Albany Public Schools Foundation.

Details aren't firm yet on the scholarship, which will be offered a year from now to at least one graduating senior from Albany who attended Periwinkle. But Fitzpatrick's former faculty, who call themselves the Periwinkle Out the Door Society, or PODS, believe it should include "Ms. Marilee" in the title somewhere.

Donations can be made via the Albany Public Schools Foundation,

"We just felt that that would be a great way to honor her," said Burl Wheaton, who taught at Periwinkle from 1977 to 2008. "She loves education. She wanted people to make the best of themselves."

Fitzpatrick died Jan. 26 at age 86 after a lifetime in education.

She had taught music for both Eugene and Albany school districts. She was principal of Millersburg and Periwinkle elementary schools; Periwinkle from 1981 to 1997.

She was appointed to the Oregon Teachers Standards and Practices Commission in 1983. In 1987, she was selected by peers as Oregon’s "National Distinguished Principal," an honor that prompted a visit to the White House.

To former Periwinkle faculty members, she will always be their favorite boss.

"To work with one principal for 17 years, that’s almost unheard of. Teachers did not want to leave Periwinkle because it was so delightful to work for Marilee," said Janice Kieft, who taught at Periwinkle from 1977 to 2002. "She backed us up as teachers and helped us problem-solve."

"Marilee was the biggest champion of education that I ever met," said Ilynn Winn, who taught at Periwinkle for about two decades. "She didn’t talk the story, she showed you. As a teacher, if we needed things to enrich our classroom or to do the job in our classroom, she got us those materials or those items."

Fitzpatrick was always on the lookout for items that would strengthen Periwinkle, and education in general, her teachers recalled.

She spearheaded the swimming fundraiser that became iSwim, one of the major fundraisers for the Albany Public Schools Foundation, recalled Lynn Dunn, who taught at Periwinkle from 1979 to 2006 and on and off after that.

She played the piano for morning assemblies. She pushed hard for programs she felt would benefit her students, bringing in Accelerated Reading and making sure they worked hard on math. Students who did well were rewarded with a trip out to lunch or for a treat in her bright red Camaro.

"That was a big highlight, back then, when you could take students in your own vehicle," Dunn said. "Times were so different."

Fitzpatrick made connections through Rotary and other civic groups and would invite people to visit her school to see learning in action, Winn said. When a parent who worked for a bank told her the business was getting rid of dozens of computers, Fitzpatrick secured them for Periwinkle, making the school possibly the first in the district to create its own computer lab. 

Winn remembered the day Fitzpatrick arranged for her fifth-graders to set up computes in the rotunda of the Capitol building in Salem and show passing lawmakers how they used them in class.

"That’s what she was like. She would connect people," Winn said. "She would get people in to see the schools. She would share what was happening. She was our best cheerleader."

Fitzpatrick made sure she was a cheerleader for her faculty, too. She'd find newspaper articles she knew certain teachers would like, cut them out and leave them in their message boxes with a note saying she was thinking of them. She'd check on each teacher if she knew something was wrong.

"She’d show up at your class and say, 'Go take a little break.' She just seemed to always know, whether you told her about it or not," Kieft said. "Each one of us thought we were her favorite."

She'd push each person to be his best, Wheaton recalled. 

"She was my boss, but she was my friend," he said. "She was just someone you could always go to, someone who had your back, which I always appreciated."

A memorial service for Fitzpatrick will be held at 2 p.m. March 10 at Valley View Evangelical Church in Clackamas. 

PODS members meet for lunch about once a month. They were talking about different possibilities to honor Fitzpatrick — a bench? A placque? — but decided people would eventually forget the name associated with the item.

Winn came up with the scholarship idea. "There’s no better way to honor her, because she believed everyone should get more education," she said.

Agreed Dunn: "She was such a firm believer in education and helping. She would be thrilled with the idea of having a scholarship named in her honor. She truly would be."


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