STRAUGHN, Ala. (WSFA) - Grief and shock have descended on Straughn Elementary School near Andalusia. COVID-19 claimed the life of a beloved teacher who left a legacy of joy and good cheer.
The marquee in front of the school sums it well. It says: “Shelia Smith. Like you, may we always live, laugh and love.”
“She was a lot to this school. She brought a lot of joy, a lot of energy,” said SES Assistant Principal Daniel Rodgers.
But what the words don’t convey is the shock of it all. School leaders said Smith had tentative plans to retire in about two years, and she did everything she knew to mask-up and sanitize.
The veteran teacher contracted COVID-19 in February and fought it for more than a month. The end came last Friday afternoon in Mobile.
“You know, in our minds that wasn’t supposed to happen. She was a fighter,” Rodgers said.
Smith spent more than 20 years educating her students at Straughn Elementary.
“It’s been hard. We were family. Her main thing was joy,” said Tammy Glidewell, a special education at the school.
Her desk said much about her personality; organized, meticulous and very much in order.
“She was an aid. She was a pep professional and she worked primarily with our special needs kids,” Rodgers said.
This is a teachable moment not only for the grown-ups.
“It’s been a comfort to me what the children have said,” explained school counselor Mandi Morris. ”We have children that were talking about Ms. Smith, that she had gone to Heaven, and a little boy wanted to do a student-led prayer for her. And he did and it really touched our hearts that a child as young as 6-years-old would automatically turn to that and want to comfort his own classmates.”
She had just turned 61 and leaves behind what many say was a beautiful life.
A visitation is scheduled for 5 p.m. Thursday at Marshall-Hammond Funeral Home in Andalusia. The funeral is set for Friday at 1 p.m. at the Kiwanis Building in Andalusia.