Athens Review, Athens, Texas

December 5, 2012

‘It’s easy to see her as an angel’

Memories of LaPoynor educator bring laughter, tears

Jayson Larson
The Athens Review

ATHENS — LARUE — It’s times like these when phrases get tossed around such as, “so-and-so lost the battle against cancer.”

But nobody around the LaPoynor Independent School District could really picture Holly Baldwin losing anything as they’ve reflected on her life this week.

She won the heart of her family by exhibiting a dedication to which maybe only a mother can relate.

She won the respect and love of her fellow faculty members by pouring herself out to her students, holding them to a no-nonsense standard that was equally tough and overflowing with compassion.

Shock slammed head-on into those students as school administrators explained Tuesday that Mrs. Baldwin would not be coming back to school.

As the tears flowed, those administrators offered up the best way to explain to those third, fourth and fifth graders how to process the news.

So they told them about Mrs. Baldwin’s latest — and greatest — victory.

“Today, she’s an angel,” elementary school principal Marsha Mills recalled telling the students. “For them, it was easy to see Mrs. Baldwin as an angel.”

Baldwin, 45, succumbed to cancer Monday in Tyler. She had been battling for three years against the disease, which started as breast cancer before metastasizing to her brain.

Funeral services are scheduled for 2 p.m. today at New York Baptist Church. The entire LaPoynor Independent School District will close an hour-and-a-half prior, giving employees, friends and students a final chance to say good-bye.

On December 21, 2011, Baldwin was told by her doctors in Houston that she had three months to live. Exhibiting a toughness by which she had become known, she defied those calculations for nearly a full year.

In the final months of her life, Baldwin would frustrate friends with her stubborn determination to come to work at LaPoynor Elementary School where she had been a fixture for 22 years as a second- and third-grade teacher.

She would wave off the loving admonishments from co-workers who couldn’t understand why she would drag herself into work — sometimes less than a full day after undergoing cancer treatments.

But those who knew her best — who knew the Holly Baldwin who would often use her own money to purchase clothes, shoes and books from the book fair for the students who were less fortunate — understood why.

“That was just her,” Mills said. “She wanted to be here for these kids.”

The Rev. Olin Bowles, a family member of Baldwin’s who will officiate her funeral services, said she continued to work into this school year. He said Baldwin, on the bad days and the good, would cling to her favorite verse in the Bible, Philippians 4:13 — “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

“Her strength — she knew the Lord was with her,” Bowles said, taking a break from writing her eulogy on Wednesday. “She didn’t let life beat her. She would not give up.”

Ironically, Tuesday night had been designated “Pink Out” night for the LaPoynor varsity girls and boys basketball games. Such nights are held across the country in public schools and colleges to honor those battling cancer and to remember those who had died because of the disease.

Baldwin’s life took center stage at the ceremony, with several people honoring her not only for her courage, but a life well-lived.

Said LaPoynor head girls basketball coach Keith Durrett: “It was a pretty emotional night.”