Remembering St. Ann School teacher Georgianne Pleasant, 86

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Some of the most adored Catholic school teachers are not Catholic but kind, hard-working educators rooted in other faiths. They wield a green thumb, nourishing young minds and encouraging their students to flourish in gardens of love and compassion.

Such was the case with Georgianne Walton Pleasant, a devout Lutheran, who dedicated the last 25 years of her career to teaching fourth grade at St. Ann School in Arlington.

Georgianne, 86, passed away Dec. 30 at INOVA Fairfax Hospital. Born Nov. 16, 1928, in Atlanta, she moved to Washington as a child. Though she planned to attend Marquette University in Milwaukee after high school, she instead married Jack C. Pleasant, her husband of 66 years. Together they raised four children - Jim, Gerald, Kathryn and John - in Falls Church.

Georgianne's funeral took place Jan. 3 at The Lutheran Church of the Redeemer in McLean. The family asked that in lieu of flowers, donations be made to St. Ann School "to honor Georgianne's dedicated service as a loyal teacher and educator."

Georgianne began attending Marymount University in Arlington when her youngest child was in elementary school. After graduating summa cum laude, she taught in Fairfax County for five years and at St. Ann School for 25 years. She retired in 2002. An avid volunteer, Georgianne and her husband were charter members of The Lutheran Church of the Redeemer.

"She was strongly committed to her faith,"said Sandy Kessinger, Georgianne's pastor. "She was just a little sweetheart. Everybody loved her. Everybody loved her smile. She really took a deep interest in you, even in the midst of her own troubles."

"She was phenomenal," said Judy Karinshak, St. Ann School secretary. "Every child who went through her class loved her. She was like a grandmother."

In his eulogy, Georgianne's son, Jim, said, "You know I loved my mother, so you know I have a certain bias (but) … I also knew my mother through the eyes of others. Folks often talk about the apple of their eye. Well, my mom had an orchard, and every apple in her orchard felt as though he or she was the apple of my mother's eye."

During the eulogy, Jim shared excerpts from letters his mother's former students sent him to share.

In Kim Martin's letter to Georgianne, she wrote, "You had such an impact on my life, and you made learning fun. To be honest, for me, learning wasn't always fun. You never made me feel stupid with my learning disability, and you were always so kind. I still think of you fondly and tell people about you."

Kimberley Portugal's letter read, "For years I've wanted to express to you how much I appreciated the extra time and attention you gave me in fourth grade, … you were one of the first and few teachers that made sure I didn't 'fall through the cracks.' I now have children of my own, one of whom has certain special needs. I am his advocate as you were mine. All I can say is, I wish there were more teachers out there like you."

The parent of a former student, Diane Amalfitano, also sent a letter to Jim, writing: "They say each child remembers one teacher throughout their lifetime - the one teacher that made a difference, an everlasting impression on their life. I believe that years from now the special teacher (my son) Joseph will remember will be you."

"She was such a valuable asset. She left her mark on people," said Georgianne's friend, Pat Martin. Martin was the mother of two former students, including letter-writer, Kim.

In 1996, as a token of friendship, Martin hand-tabbed every book of a Bible and gave it to one of Jim's daughters. During the last three weeks of her life, Georgianne's children read to her from that Bible. But rather than passively listening, Georgianne used the reading sessions as an opportunity to discuss meaningful lessons.

"She taught until the very end," said Martin. "She really showed us the way to die."

Georgianne was predeceased by her husband and is survived by her sister, Kathryn Boyce, of Great Falls, and her brother, John, of McLean, as well as four children, nine grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren.

"Between what I experienced - what I know in my heart - from the shared experiences of those who knew her, and from the sweet words of her (former) fourth-graders, we know Georgianne Pleasant was great," said Jim. "She was special."

Stoddard can be reached at cstoddard@catholicherald.com.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015