The Light In Her Wake
- by Molly Fitzpatrick, Mary Kay Deen, Kat Fitzpatrick and Ellis Anderson,
photos and video by Ellis Anderson
Her obituary describes her as a “beloved member of the Bay St. Louis community,” and that’s no exaggeration. In Mary Kay Deen’s long career as an elementary school teacher, she touched the lives of hundreds of children. But she inspired adults as well, probably not realizing how many. She was one of those rare people who trail light in their wake and in the normal course of a day, they uplift any who cross their paths.
As an example, consider these powerful words of hers from the 2001 book, The Whole Story, Teachers Talk About Portfolios.
"… I intend to listen carefully to and for each child – each one a Fairy Bellringer, an individual who must not be crushed by artificial time lines or rankings. I have no soft set of expectations. I intend to give children an education centered upon justice and community, one that models respect and dignity. Every child will leave my classroom with his or her spirit intact. No child will be limited because of standardization or controlled by competition."
Kat Fitzpatrick, artist and educator, watched her own daughter Molly began to beam with Mary Kay’s guidance.
“She invited them [her students] into her enthusiasm, so they caught fire. It was her special gift. She would hand the baton to them and make them experts and authorities."
"She could see the children and recognize something in them that she admired. And then she’d turn it, so the child could see herself with Mary Kay’s eyes. So many things are invisible to us until someone shares that way of being."
Mary Kay Deen was the first person (other than my mother, who I believed was legally obligated to make me feel special) to tell me I was an artist. Even in a wounded, smart ass little kid, she saw it.
She never condescended, never patted my head -- she believed I had something important to communicate, and eventually I started to believe it too. Other students of hers have echoed that sentiment over the years.
She took the time to find what was innate and powerful about each of her students, hold it up to the light, and patiently reveal it to them.
Before her memorial service, I thought this was something that just flowed out of her, something beautiful and saintly that maybe she didn't even realize about herself. But upon hearing the excerpts from the teaching book she contributed to, I saw that it was, in fact, a time-honored commitment - something she had made her life's mission and worked hard for every single day.
I felt so intensely grateful and proud of her in that moment, because I realized that at the end of her life, she had achieved everything she set out to do. She loved easily and joyfully, without compromise, and the effects of that are visibly imprinted on our community. I will hold her in my heart always.
Thank you, Mary Kay, for making Bellringers of all who knew you.