At Bette Paskey’s memorial Wednesday afternoon, hundreds of people filled the Frenchtown High School gym. Outside, the “F” on the nearby hillside had been changed to a “P” in her memory.
The sixth-grade teacher of 39 years, who died April 14 at 61, five months after being diagnosed with cancer, was remembered for her humor, creativity and the dedication she showed to her many students over the years.
“I’m just curious before we get started,” Paskey’s sister-in-law, Cynthia Davenport, asked the crowd, “if you were a student of Bette Paskey’s, if you would please stand.”
Most of the crowd of hundreds, from sixth-graders to adults, rose. The gym erupted into applause for the woman who’d affected the lives of so many.
“Bette Paskey was the maker of meaningful and magical moments,” Davenport said.
When Paskey was a kid, the youngest sibling of five, she planted sunflowers in her family’s dirt backyard to brighten it up, and always chose the least attractive Christmas tree, knowing nobody else would want it, Davenport said.
“She chose a career in education because of this passion for helping people, making it her mission that no one would go unnoticed or forgotten. Bette would tell her students that their stories mattered, so it was important they made sure that it was a good one.”
Paskey was loved by her many students, who wrote her letters and cards after she was diagnosed in November. Davenport said she and Paskey’s family read through some of them, and found certain themes repeated.
“Over and over, I read, ‘You were the most influential person in my life. You believed in my potential. You were my inspiration.’”
Some students wrote that they became teachers because of the influence she had on them. Coworkers wrote about Paskey’s good advice and sense of humor. If you jam the copier, she used to tell them, put a sign on it blaming someone else.
Paskey’s coworker of 34 years, Carol Flint, remembers her as always doing something funny and looking at the bright side of life.
“If I was upset, she’d listen to me as I told her what I planned to do, and then she’d tell me, ‘OK, this is what you’re gonna do,’” Flint said. “She gave such good advice. An incredibly solid friend.”
Paskey was very involved in her community: attending events, supporting her students, making quilts, and planning parties for people. She continued to do some of those things until she couldn’t anymore, Davenport said.
“She found joy in living,” Davenport said. “Most importantly, every day she saw heaven in you and me when we could not see it in ourselves.”
Paskey's husband of nearly 40 years, Rod, sat in the front row with his and Paskey's children and other family members. Two of Paskey’s sisters, Diane More and Gail Gray, wore bright yellow scarves to the memorial, celebrating Paskey’s energetic spirit and love for bright colors.
You have free articles remaining.
More was also a teacher for many years, and said her little sister Paskey had a big influence on her own teaching. Paskey’s classroom was decorated with interactive posters, and she used to come up with activities that made learning more interesting for her students.
On Halloween, she’d buy a toy skeleton and have her students label its bones.
“You couldn’t help but learn in there,” More said.
“She could teach a rock to read,” Paskey’s oldest sister Gray added. Paskey cared about and supported the students who struggled, Gray said, working extra hard to make sure they all passed.
When they were little, the sisters used to play "school." Their dad, who owned a hardware store, told them not to go into business when they were older.
“He sent us all to college,” More said. “He wanted us to be teachers."
Paskey’s diagnosis came in the middle of the school year, while she was teaching. She wasn’t ready to quit yet, More said, but was forced to. To honor her, More said she wants to go back to volunteering at the school from which she retired.
“She had a belief in all children, that you can make a difference in all children’s lives,” Gray said. “Bette would say, 'In the next two weeks, you go do something for a child.'"
Brynn Leishman, a senior at Frenchtown High, had Paskey for homeroom in sixth grade. Kids who didn’t usually enjoy school liked her class because she put so much effort into making it new every day, Leishman said
She was also gentle with students. When a student broke Paskey’s classroom window by kicking a ball through it at recess, Paskey didn’t get angry at him.
“She was really sweet when everyone else was mad."
At the end of the memorial, Davenport said a prayer, and “Over the Rainbow” played in the gym. A reception, with flower bouquets assembled by sixth-graders, was held in the nearby lunch room.
“This is a day we didn’t think we’d have to experience for a very long time,” Davenport said to the students, teachers, family and community members gathered before her. She encouraged them all to plant sunflowers and to paint walls yellow, as Paskey did.
“Spread the love and joy she gave to each of us. She would like you to make the most of your moments with others. And by doing this, we move on, but we keep her with us always.”