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School mourns beloved teacher

POSTED: December 12, 2007 7:06 a.m.
The death of an esteemed English teacher has cast a shadow over a school that gets its name from the Cherokee word for "place of light."

Susan Jean Crawford, a 57-year-old Chestatee High School teacher, died Tuesday night after battling a brief illness. Bill Thompson, principal of Chestatee High, said Crawford had not been at school for about two weeks. She had checked into a hospital for pain caused by an infection, and she "never did come back," Thompson said.

News of Crawford's passing was a shock to her colleagues and students.

"It was an unexpected loss to say the least," said Jim Haight, who taught with Crawford since Chestatee opened six years ago.

"It all happened so quick," he said.

The atmosphere at the school was somber the day after Crawford's death, Haight said. "There were a lot of teachers upset."

"It was ... a numbing type day," he said. "You know that you have to go on, but you also know that if kids ask questions that you want to let them talk and talk about Susan."

Haight said in 30 years of teaching, this was only the second time he had lost a colleague.

"When you lose anybody it's unfortunate," Haight said. "When you lose someone like Susan who has such an impact on kids ... and on adults, it's a special loss."

Haight remembers Crawford as a woman who was always smiling.

"I can't ever remember a time I didn't see her like that," Haight said.

Messages left by students and teachers with Crawford's obituary listing on gainesvilletimes.com expressed adoration and gratitude for her life.

"(Crawford) impacted so many young lives that they cannot be counted," Mark Tomcho of Dawsonville posted. "She will never be forgotten."

Haight said the students' postings on the Web site were testament to the type of person Crawford was.

"There's a lot of people in (education) ... who teach, but I'm not sure there's a lot of people who can really inspire kids to learn," Haight said. "And she was one that did."

"You don't realize what an impact you have on kids," Haight said. "That's what is really very heartening about it. She made such an impact on the kids."Thompson, who described Crawford as a "wonderful teacher," said many students and teachers have come forward with ideas to make a tribute to the life of their teacher and fellow colleague.

Some students had suggested making "In loving memory" T-shirts with Crawford's picture, and many have talked about planting a garden in her honor, Thompson said.

But the school has not yet decided what to do in Crawford's honor.

"I think everyone just wants to get through the funeral first," Haight said.

Crawford and Marta Chapman, another Hall County teacher who died this week, will be honored by Northeast Georgia Medical Center's Love Light Tree program on Monday. David Head, a teacher at West Hall High School who donated this year's tree, requested Friday that Love Light be dedicated to the two teachers.

Chapman, 43, most recently taught at Riverbend Elementary but had been unable to work this year as she battled cancer. She died Thursday (obituary, 2B).

Crawford and Chapman be honored during the ceremony Monday in addition to Chuck Frissell, a beloved hospital volunteer.

Haight said Thompson used the perfect words when he notified Chestatee faculty of Crawford's death in an e-mail Tuesday.

"He said ‘we've lost a master teacher,'" Haight said. "And we really did, but now she'll be teaching in another place."

Crawford's memorial service is noon today in the chapel of Mason & Ward Funeral Home. Crawford, a native of Altoona, Pa., is survived by her husband, Lance Crawford; sister, Jane Lumbatis of Sugar Hill; and brother and sister-in-law, John and Debbie Simpson of Altoona, Pa.



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