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A "fantastic lady' says goodbye

Before she closed the door on her 31-year career in education, Yvonne Brewer left a few things for the principal who is taking over her duties at Moton Elementary School.

Her old bookcase. Some file folders. And a few words of advice.

"Always remember the reason we're here is the students," Brewer advised her successor, John DiRienzo. "Their well-being is based on the decisions we make."

Brewer decided to stay in the school system a little longer than she had intended because of her dedication to her pupils, and it will be the children who will bring her back as a school volunteer once her retirement is official on Friday.

"I'm going to miss it to a certain extent, but I'm looking forward to volunteering and doing the things I want to do with the children without all the responsibilities," she said.

"My lifeline is my rapport with students. It's a hug a day that keeps the doctor away."

On Friday, Brewer received enough hugs to keep her healthy for years to come.

Family, friends, pupils and colleagues gathered at the Emerson Road campus Friday afternoon to bid her farewell. For two hours, Brewer was showered with kisses and embraces as she celebrated her last day as an educator. (She will take vacation time next week.)

"She's one fantastic, fair lady," said Jill Fields, an in-school suspension aide at Moton. "She's always been good to us. We're looking forward to working with Mr. D, but we're really, really going to miss to her.

"You can't say enough about her and can't find the right words to describe her."

Fifth-grader Megan Champagne, 10, described Brewer as nice and thoughtful.

"She comes into the classes and talks to us and keeps the school running," said Megan, who attends First Baptist Church of Brooksville with Brewer. "We're going to miss her."

Eleven-year-old Katie Van Fossen, Megan's classmate, agreed.

"I think she's nice," Katie said. "She was a good principal."

Brewer said she decided to leave the district midway through the school year because this is the time of year that principals begin planning for next year's budgets.

"I thought it was only fair (to the next principal)," said the mother of two, who will spend her first retirement weeks traveling in her motor home with her husband, Pat.

It will be a much-needed vacation for the former Teacher of the Year who spent 14 years in the classroom and two years as a district administrator before becoming Moton's first principal in 1979.

It was the late Mitchel Black who encouraged the Georgia native to become an administrator.

Black once told her, she said: "You have education in your bones, you love children, you have boundless energy, and you are thoroughly committed to the future. . . . Your services are needed in the exciting, challenging years ahead."

Brewer not only served her pupils, but also her staff, according to employees who attended Friday's reception.

"Anytime I ever had a problem she was there for me," said Sandy Best, a teacher's aide.

Fields, the in-school suspension aide, added: "She'd talk to you one-on-one. She was a friend as well as a boss."

DiRienzo, a former assistant principal at Brooksville Elementary School, said those types of sentiments make the task of replacing Brewer a difficult one.

Said DiRienzo: "If I can spend half the time she has spent here and make half the impact she did, I will feel like I've done a good job."