ST. PETERSBURG — Between classes, this was a common sight: a woman just over 5 feet tall, wearing top-of-the-line suits and matching jewelry, running down the halls of St. Petersburg High in expensive heels.
Linda McPheron, the school's assistant principal and coordinator of its International Baccalaureate program, needed to get out in front of something, fix some problem. Dr. McPheron was good at this, tightening and boosting Florida's first IB program in a dozen years.
Dr. McPheron was also known nationally, serving a year's term in the International Baccalaureate office in New York City. Two years later she took a medical leave, then retired in 2007, leaving an advanced IB program that set the pace for others.
Dr. McPheron, one of Pinellas County's architects of a program that prepares bright and motivated students for college, died Tuesday of an illness resembling Parkinson's disease, her family said. She was 67.
Colleagues describe her as a "spitfire" or a "Mighty Mouse," trying to summarize a leader with the energy of a former head cheerleader and an incandescent passion for education.
Those closest to her say Dr. McPheron and the IB program served each other. She took over the top spot in 1994 and was already intimately familiar with it. In the early 1980s, when she was teaching social studies at St. Petersburg High, Dr. McPheron served on the committee that authored the application from the International Baccalaureate, the nonprofit educational foundation based in Geneva.
In the late 1980s, she moved to a job in the Pinellas County School District coordinating a high school career internship program. Her experience in both positions made Dr. McPheron a perfect fit to run the IB program at St. Petersburg High.
In 13 years with the program, she codified and formalized criteria for entering the program and remaining in it, standards and policies that were implemented throughout the district.
"She kind of took it to a different level," said Christine Lowry, who ran the IB program at Palm Harbor University High, the county's second such program. "It sort of enriched what was already there. She raised the bar."
Born Linda Gooley in Chicago in 1946, Dr. McPheron was the prom queen of her high school and excelled academically at Illinois State University. After a marriage to John LaGasse Sr., she moved to Pasco County and taught at Gulf High. She earned a master's degree from the University of Tampa. In 1977, she married Michael McPheron, who would coach basketball at Dixie Hollins and Seminole high schools.
Dr. McPheron returned to Illinois State to earn a doctorate, and started teaching at St. Petersburg High in the early 1980s. In 1999, her husband died of colon cancer. Both her children were grown, and for the first time she was alone.
"At that point, she really threw herself into her work," said daughter Bridget Mannion, 35, "as a way to cope with it, but also because she was passionate about it. And I think St. Pete High was her family, and that was a way of dealing with the death."
In 2005, she served for a year as the diploma manager for 621 schools in North America at the IB's New York office.
An illness cut short her career. Doctors at first called it Parkinson's disease, but later amended the diagnosis to Lewy body dementia, a progressive disease. On leaving her post, Dr. McPheron decided she would not be needing her high-heeled shoes anymore. She gave two grocery bags full of top-quality heels to successor Susan Farias, who wore the same size.
Correction: This story has been amended to reflect the following correction: Michael McPheron died in 1999. An earlier version of this story gave a different year.
Contact Andrew Meacham at [email protected] or (727) 892-2248. Follow @torch437.