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Georgia Always On My Mind

Freedom Hill Elementary principal succumbs to breast cancer.

Whenever a teacher at Freedom Hill Elementary in Vienna was about to get married, principal Georgia McGuire wouldn't just offer her congratulations or send a card. She would make all the bows for the church ceremony, as well as make the bride's veil. Doing so was simply a typical demonstration of McGuire's generosity.

"Georgia was so many things. She was my friend, my boss, my sister, my mother, all rolled into one," said friend and Freedom Hill Elementary registrar Louan Hassinger, who added that McGuire did the flower arrangements for her son's wedding. As Hassinger talked, she tried to hold back tears.

McGuire, 54, beloved principal of Freedom Hill Elementary, died April 21 from breast cancer. The Alexandria resident, who leaves behind a husband and two adult children, also leaves behind many students, parents and colleagues who regarded her as a caring and special friend.

"We just loved her like one of our family," said Freedom Hill literacy coordinator Rita Davis.

A 30-year veteran of Fairfax County Public Schools, McGuire would've been eligible for retirement in August. But besides being principal at Freedom Hill, McGuire had also been an assistant principal and learning disabilities teacher at Oak Hill Elementary in Herndon, as well as a learning disabilities teacher at Franklin Sherman Elementary in McLean.

In 1997, McGuire was nominated for Principal of the Year by Fairfax County Public Schools.

Indeed, McGuire's desire to integrate special needs children with regular students was one of the hallmarks she had established at Freedom Hill, teachers say. In addition to building up the special education program at Freedom Hill, she also initiated a staff development program that focused on language arts teaching approaches.

"She was very welcomed and loved by the students. She was very student-oriented," said acting principal Harriette Best, who came to Freedom Hill during the same year as McGuire, in 1991.

"The important thing about her is that she encouraged and then found ways to help teachers to grow and to take initiatives," Best continued.

The language arts staff development program, called "Total Inclusion," was developed by Davis, who had been encouraged by McGuire to initiate the program.

"Georgia always believed in her staff. She always felt, let's use our expertise on staff to make our school better," Davis said.

In addition to developing programs at school, McGuire also developed friendships with her students and their parents. Former PTA president Paris Goodnight recalled working with McGuire on building playgrounds for the school. McGuire also helped Goodnight's son complete his Eagle Scout project, even though her son had left the school years ago.

"My daughter expected a daily hug from Mrs. McGuire," Goodnight said. "She'll be dearly missed."

Although the search for a new principal has begun, the community at Freedom Hill won't easily forget McGuire. For the past several years, Davis had organized the community to participate in the Race for the Cure, an annual event in Washington which promotes breast cancer awareness.

McGuire walked last year with her colleagues, telling them that she would be with them again for this year's walk.

Her colleagues and friends, who plan to walk in honor of McGuire, know that she will be there.

"She'll be with us in memory," Best said.