Carol Papi, a Peabody native, started teaching the city’s youngsters when she was 21, and now 48 years and about 1,200 students later, she’s finally decided to retire.
Papi and 13 other Peabody Public Schools educators who are retiring this year were recognized in a special ceremony Tuesday.
“I’m here tonight on a very happy mission…to try to put into perspective Mrs. Papi’s dedication,” said teachers’ union president Bruce Nelson.
He noted, smiling, that he and Papi’s niece were juniors together at Peabody High when Papi was already teaching and after a long career of his own, he’s already been retired for eight years and she’s just joining him now.
At Papi’s retirement party on Friday, Nelson said, he wore his “marathon” tie – a special tie with numerous runners down the front of it. He said a colleague gave it to him after he completed his third marathon.
“I don’t think I’ll ever wear that tie again…what’s 26 miles three times to 48 years in a classroom? That’s my personal tribute to you, Carol,” Nelson said.
Mary Ingersoll, a second grade teacher with Papi at the , spoke fondly of her longtime colleague Tuesday night. Ingersoll has accumulated almost 20 years herself.
“We’ve had some fun and tears over the years… In all my years working with her I never saw her get upset, she always had a kind word,” Ingersoll said, noting that carried over to fellow staff members as well. She said Papi was always willing to kindly give advice from her years of experiences in the classroom.
Ingersoll also pointed out that Papi started her teaching career in the very same gymnasium at the Kiley School 48 years ago; in fact she was hired the night before school started. From the Kiley, she moved to the old Wallace School and then on to the Welch when it was built in 1969.
School Committee member Beverley Griffin Dunne said her children had Papi as a teacher at the Welch and loved her.
“Being a teacher there for the entire time that school has been open is incredible,” Dunne said, adding that Papi touched the lives of those 1,200 students’ families too.
Nelson said he thought close to five decades of service should amount to more than a tree – a retirement gift originally planned for Papi – and the next idea was one he and Papi’s colleagues both immediately thought of: what about a playground? Not just any playground, but the , where Papi has spent most of her career.
Nelson made the formal request Tuesday night, having already spoken with Interim Superintendent Herb Levine and Mayor Ted Bettencourt. Dunne said the request was fully supported by the Welch staff as well as the playground committee and asked colleagues to waive the normal subcommittee review process to instead just vote right then.
Following a 6-0 vote, “The Mrs. Carol Papi Playground” is now official. Bettencourt said a ceremony will be held June 20 to recognize
“I was just absolutely stunned [at the honor],” Papi said Tuesday night, referring to when she first learned of the intention to name the playground after her.
As for the decision now to finally retire, Papi said: “It just seemed the appropriate time to go.”
“I would like to thank you and the Peabody Public Schools for granting me the privilege to work with many of the school children of Peabody and their families for the last forty-eight years,” said Papi in her letter notifying Levine of her plans to retire.
“I have always felt that teaching is a noble profession that in some small way allows an individual the opportunity to help shape the future,” Papi said. “Over the years I have had the chance to rejoice in the success of my students as they made their life journey from elementary school children to fully functioning citizens of Peabody and many other communities. It has been a wonderful experience.”
Papi and her fellow retirees this year requested a book be donated to their respective school libraries. Her choice was “Koala Lou” by Mem Fox.