Mentorship and friendship in the workplace can be mutually beneficial, but the relationship does not always extend past the end of the parties’ careers.
However, in the case of my wife and her longtime vocational mentor, legendary Albany educator Bert Maguire, that close association continued all the way to Bert’s death on Jan. 22.
Bertha Griffis Maguire took Mary Lee Chandler Gordon under her wing from the time they met early in ML’s 30-year career. She never let go of her. It was Bert who offered encouragement, vast knowledge and lots of TLC to Mary Lee in those initial years of her work — first as an elementary school teacher and then as a curriculum supervisor.
It was Bert who championed Mary Lee’s upward mobility toward the Dougherty County School System’s central office, where she worked during the last half of her career. Bert, who was the principal of Highland Avenue Elementary School for 15 years, was already an assistant superintendent when Mary Lee went downtown. Highland is also where Mary Lee met her and taught.
Bert was a renowned figure in the local schools and far beyond Albany. She was elected to the high honor of president of the Southeastern Elementary School Principals. That led to her even-higher election as president of the National Association of Elementary School Principals. Let’s say that again for emphasis: Bert Maguire of Albany, Georgia, was president of the National Association of Elementary School Principals. Consider how many elementary schools and principals exist in the United States.
Bert retired in 1984. Mary Lee’s final year was 1999. She was just one of many thousands of other Dougherty County public school students and teachers who had benefited from Bert’s expertise.
The community had not seen nor heard the last year of Bert Maguire upon her retirement. While still working, she had been instrumental in the formation of the Partners in Education program. She remained close to the school district and other educators with her participation in the Retired Teachers Association. She quickly delved into other community activism as a board member and president of the local American Heart Association. She participated in the March of Dimes, Leadership Albany and was president of Women in Network.
This kind of community activism brought her the well-deserved honor of Albany Woman of the Year in 1986. She won the M.L. King Dream Award and was a faithful member of First United Methodist Church’s Fellowship Sunday School class when she died at the age of 96.
Just about everyone who’s ever held a job had a mentor watching over them, someone to offer praise when deserved but who also could deliver a mild, maybe even harsh, word of counsel, too — something to make their understudy a better teacher, reporter, bank executive, carpenter, tractor mechanic or salesperson.
That was Bert Maguire to Mary Lee. After they had both retired, Mary Lee and two more of Bert’s younger friends, Fran Brown and Virginia Johnson, neither of whom was an educator but professionals in other endeavors, met frequently for dinner to talk about life. That was Bert’s way of mentoring people from other vocations. Doubtless she crossed paths with, and helped along, many additional Albanians from all walks of life.
A relationship built in the work place can certainly continue to live on later through friendship — a kind of mentorship that may be the exception more than the rule.
Bert Maguire’s life was a testament to service beyond the call, helping to develop her community into a better place than she found it.