The Rim Country lost a great teacher, a fine friend to many and a dedicated wife, mother and grandmother Nov. 20 when Gloria Joe, 68, succumbed to cancer after an 18-year battle with the disease.
Evidence of her contributions to students and fellow teachers began flowing in during the days following her death.
Kathleen Alexander-Young, now a vice principal at a Paradise Valley High School, called to express her remorse, as did Michelle Gibbar, now a teacher at a Rio Rico high school.
Both were on the same eighth-grade teaching team with Gloria prior to her retirement in 2004.
Former students from around the country remembered Gloria as a dedicated teacher who spent countless hours setting up science experiments, preaching the scientific method and encouraging young people to become life-long learners.
“I moved here in my middle school years and she was my home room teacher,” former student Erin Fitt said. “She had a huge impact on my life.”
Former RCMS counselor Ginger Sparks and ex-PES teacher Donna Reid praised Gloria as a true friend and a dedicated educator.
“Among the best, very best,” Reid said. “It (her death) is a huge loss.”
It was Gloria who encouraged PHS science teacher and Lady Longhorn soccer coach Joe Schmidt to enter the education profession by taking him on years ago as a student teacher. She also was a mentor to PUSD teacher Hallie Kinnick and scores of others.
Former RCMS principal Bill Lawson praised her “as one of the best hires I ever made.”
In the 1980s and 1990s, Gloria — as the only eighth-grade science teacher in the district — taught every student who passed through the system, including her own daughter, Wendy.
At Gloria’s 2004 retirement party, Wendy brought tears to the eyes of all those in attendance reading a heart-felt script she penned about her mother.
“She touched the lives of a lot of children including our own,” said Gloria’s widower, Victor Joe.
Some remember Gloria for the courage she showed during her fight with the cancer that tortured her most of the last years of her life.
This reporter, a retired teacher who taught across the hall from Gloria for 18 years, recalls the days she scooted out the side door of her classroom to vomit because the chemotherapy was wreaking havoc on her body, and the hairpiece she gracefully donned after losing her hair.
Most memorable in her courageous battle was how she valiantly waged it without a word of complaint or woe.
Some fellow teachers recall the school years she stood up to an RCMS administrator who, she believed, had wronged her and made policy not in the best interest of students.
“She was never one to back down,” said Sparks.
After Gloria received a five-day suspension from teaching for her activism, she put the concerns of her students first saying, “What I am upset about is that now my kids will have five days of a (substitute) instead of doing what I wanted them to do, and they’re not getting as good of an education as they would have.”
The suspension was later reduced to a day without pay and the administrator resigned the following year.
Other teachers involved in the incident praised her as a “warrior” for her commitment to doing what she believed was best for students.
Among the highlights of Gloria’s illustrious career was the Walt Disney American Science Teacher of the Year award she received in 1990.
She and Victor traveled to Hollywood for the awards ceremony emceed by actor Jon Voight and shown on national television.
After being selected for the award, television crews packed Gloria’s classroom video taping her with her students.
At the Hollywood ceremony, a six-minute clip of that visit was shown to the audience and later broadcast.
In 2001, she was named the Wal-Mart teacher of the Year and given a $500 gift certificate. It surprised no one when she used the money to purchase science equipment not available in the usual school budget.
Gloria was also a two-time winner of the President’s Award for Excellence in Science and Math Teaching and was the Arizona Science Teacher Association Teacher of the Year. She served a term as president of the ASTA and was a 15-year member of its board of directors.
Her efforts in the classroom earned RCMS numerous grants, the largest of which was $12,000 from the GTE Corporation.
Over the years, she was invited to attend several prestigious science institutes including the Woodrow Wilson Fellowship at Princeton University. She was also chosen for institutes at the University of California at Berkeley, Miami University in Florida and San Jose State.
Almost everywhere she traveled she brought home bumper stickers, decals, signs and markers, which adorned her classroom.
Gloria’s family has scheduled a viewing for 5 to 7 p.m. today, Nov. 25, at Messinger Funeral Home.
Gloria’s remains will be taken to California where she and Victor have a large, extended family. A celebration of life memorial service will be held at 2:30 p.m. Dec. 14 in the Rim Country Middle School gymnasium.
In lieu of flowers, a memorial scholarship fund is being set up in Gloria’s name. Details will be made public later this week.