When Pat Archibald first arrived at Perkins Elementary in the early 1990s, 150 students were no-shows.
In that time of desegregation, white families from Woodlawn and Pinellas Park refused to have their children bused to Perkins, a neighborhood school in the heart of south St. Petersburg.
Now, as the Center for the Arts and International Studies, Perkins is among the most popular magnet programs in Pinellas County. Families apply in droves because of the lasting work of Archibald, an assistant principal who was the program’s founding coordinator.
"Pat Archibald was the heart and soul of that school," said her former principal, Robert Lister. "She’ll always remain the heart and soul of that school."
Archibald spent the last half of her 34 years in education at Perkins. She helped hire artistic staff, maintain a million-dollar budget, design an expansive new campus and give tireless tours to skeptical families — all to sell them on Perkins. And then she had to deliver.
Despite 60-hour work weeks, she kept delaying her retirement until the state’s Deferred Retirement Option Program, known as DROP, forced her out in 2008. Soon after, she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.
Archibald died on New Year’s Eve in St. Petersburg. She was 78.
Patricia Hope Danford was born Oct. 7, 1939 in Massachusetts to a family of educators. She lived in New Jersey and New York City before coming to Clearwater in 1947.
The family settled among the orange groves in a home 72 feet above sea level to be safe from hurricanes. Archibald loved to explore outdoors, shaking the scorpions out of her shoes before her strolls.
She graduated from Clearwater High School and studied education at the University of Tampa. Around then, her father, Harold "Dick" Danford, was the first principal of Dunedin High. Her mother, Kathryn Danford, worked as a teacher.
Archibald took time off from her education career to raise her three children by her first husband, Chris Wilson, whom she divorced in 1972. Around the time she returned to the classroom, she married Fred Archibald and took his last name. They divorced in 1984.
Pat Archibald spent many years teaching sixth-grade science at Tyrone Middle, where she had her youngest daughter, Betsy, as a student.
"When any of the space shuttles went up, she’d take us outside to watch it," said Betsy Murdock, 46, a school psychologist in Tampa. "All of her students loved her. She had a special bond with her students."
At Tyrone, Archibald was named one of the top 10 teachers in the county. Yet it was far from the pinnacle of her career.
She met Lister at a teacher training group and later worked with him on a grant-funded dropout prevention program. When Lister was tapped as principal of Perkins in 1991, he picked Archibald as his second-in-command.
"She made an instant connection with everyone, students and parents," he said.
Archibald assumed the role of magnet coordinator when Perkins received a federal grant to turn the school into an arts magnet in 1993. Lister and Archibald re-interviewed staff to handpick the best team for the new program.
The school’s enrollment ballooned and the school district had to adopt a lottery system for Perkins. In 1998, work began on a $9.4 million construction project at Perkins that included a 250-seat theater, an outdoor amphitheater, a 1,940-square-foot dance studio and plenty of rooms for pottery kilns, keyboards and developing photos.
The outdoor stage, where the magnet coordinator watched countless winter shows and morning concerts, now has a name: Archibald Ampitheater.
Service: The public is invited to a celebration of life service for Pat Archibald at 4 p.m. Friday, Jan. 5, at Anderson-McQueen Funeral Home, 2201 Dr. Martin Luther King St. N, in St. Petersburg.
Researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Contact Colleen Wright at [email protected] or (727) 893-8643. Follow @Colleen_Wright.