BAYONET POINT — Weakened by inoperable cancer, Connie Duffy realized last April that she no longer could keep teaching.
It was one of the few times anyone can recall seeing her without a smile on her face.
"Connie's heart was with those kids," Bayonet Point Middle School principal Mike Asbell said.
Even after she left the school, Ms. Duffy remained close. She continued writing lesson plans for her students and stayed in contact with many of her former colleagues, who would bring her food, help her get to doctor's appointments and share in conversation.
Their grief was evident Wednesday as they mourned Ms. Duffy's loss in her battle with cancer. She died Tuesday (Jan. 12, 2010) at age 61.
"She gave a very valiant fight," said Debi Gloomis, a friend and colleague who took Ms. Duffy to the hospital last week when she suffered a stroke after a round of chemotherapy. "We kept praying for a miracle."
Ms. Duffy taught social studies at Bayonet Point Middle School for 26 years. Over that period of time, she gained a reputation for being able to get the best out of all her students.
"She never had a problem in the classroom. The kids were always good," said Ellen Maracotta, a science teacher and friend. "It was like magic."
Sick or not, she said, Ms. Duffy gave her all, trying every trick of the trade. Then they would share a bag of popcorn together in the staff room, laughing as they swapped classroom tales.
"She would eat half and I would eat half," Maracotta recalled. "I miss that."
Faith kept her going even when times got tough. And that it did, as Ms. Duffy's illness worsened yet she could not convince the Pasco school district's sick leave bank committee to give her paid time off through the end of the 2008-09 school year. (She ultimately won that effort after appealing the denial.)
"She just never showed how sick she was," recalled Patty Joens, the principal's secretary, who coordinated meal deliveries to Ms. Duffy's home so she would not have to cook. "She never complained. … She never gave up."
In fact, Asbell said, Ms. Duffy considered every day she survived her cancer a gift from God, not for herself but as another day she could make a difference in someone else's life.
"She gave me a lot of inspiration," said home economics teacher Nadine Rife, who met Ms. Duffy four years ago and considered her a "Christian sister."
Even in her recent Christmas card, Ms. Duffy told friends that doctors had given her two or three months more, but added "What do they know? They don't know the power of prayer," Rife shared.
Her strong beliefs, strength under pressure and good humor made her a natural person for others to turn to in times of need, Gloomis said: "Whenever anyone looked for help or guidance, they went to her."
Ms. Duffy is survived by her mother, sister, brother and other relatives. A funeral and burial is planned in Michigan, with a memorial service to take place for Florida friends a few weeks afterward.
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at blogs.tampabay.com/schools.