Honoring Ann Marie McGhee: Beloved teacher remembered after her death

Dec. 3—Humble, compassionate, irreplaceable, organized.

These are just some of the words used to describe 48-year-old Ann Marie McGhee, a fifth-grade teacher at Horse Creek Academy who died Nov. 10. She was diagnosed with bile duct cancer, a rare form of cancer.

Before coming to HCA, McGhee taught at Warrenville Elementary School for many years. As an educator, McGhee made a lot of friends who spoke of her generosity, teaching ability, demeanor and organization.

Remembered by friends

Catherine Baker met McGhee in 10th grade and described her as "a great friend" and an incredible teacher. She could make connections with difficult kids and make a positive impact in their life.

"She was enthusiastic, organized like I've never seen before, she always knew what she was planning to do and worked far ahead," Baker said. "She and two of my other friends, we would take yearly trips ... and she was always the planner and organizer and kept us on track."

The two worked together at Warrenville Elementary for many years.

"(Her students) absolutely loved her. Even when they would leave fifth grade, on registration days they would all want to come back to see her," Baker said.

Baker said it is hard to pinpoint one thing she'll miss most because they were in each other's lives for so long, but said it would be her "unconditional friendship."

"She touched a lot of lives and she was always so humble," Baker said. "She never really thought that of herself. If you talked to her in person she would never say those things about herself. But we lost an amazing person."

Classroom impact

Fourth-grade teacher Angela Moore had known McGhee since she started teaching. Moore was her mentor teacher at Warrenville Elementary and they eventually became partner teachers. Moore left WES for HCA and eventually told McGhee to come there, which she did in 2021.

When remembering McGhee, Moore said that she had a gift and was "born to be a teacher." Students would be struggling when they came into her class and she would turn them around.

"I don't know what magic she possessed, but she had such a positive impact on every child that came through her classroom," Moore said. "She would get them higher academically, get them to where they were an important part of the classroom ... they left holding their heads a little higher after being with her. It was beautiful."

While Moore might've been McGhee's mentor teacher, she learned from her.

"She held such high expectations for her kids, but she also was so incredible at building the supports they needed to achieve those high expectations," Moore said.

Moore said she'll miss everything about her. She described McGhee as someone a person could go to for judgement-free advice and said she could always bounce ideas off of her. They were able to accomplish a lot while working together.

"That was my person," Moore said.

Fellow HCA fifth-grade teacher Jessica Cagle described McGhee as the mom of their group because if anyone needed anything, she had it.

"She was the most organized person I ever met," Cagle said. "Going in her classroom since she was sick and since she was gone it's been easy to find things.

McGhee also taught Cagle's daughter.

"She was a phenomenal teacher," Cagle said. "That's why I wanted my daughter to have her.

"Besides her being a nurturing teacher, she knew what the kids needed, she knew how to get them motivated, even the hardest kids she could get them motivated."

Cagle said she'll miss McGhee's smile and positive demeanor.

"I never saw her get ruffled about anything," Cagle said. "She always remained calm and very level headed and very compassionate to the kids."

Love for students

Dr. Ann Marie Taylor, the lead learner at HCA, was not only McGhee's principal, but the parent of one of her students. She said McGhee was a special person and had a great relationship with her students, and would come to her daughter's games.

"My daughter was pretty shy and really wanted Ann Marie McGhee to be her teacher because she was so organized and my daughter is like that, too." she said. "But Ann Marie instructionally was (great). You know when people are made to do something, they're just better at it because they're designed for it. I think she was very structured and organized, and creative and really pushed her students to be better. She's irreplaceable."

Erin Spears, a fifth-grade teacher at HCA, started working with McGhee nine years ago at Warrenville Elementary School before they both came to HCA. She said what she'll remember most about McGhee is the talks they had about her family and the love she had for her husband.

"She loved him, unconditionally loved him and he loved her," Spears said. "Her love for her students was incredible. We would look at Ann and say we want to handle situations like Ann did. Everybody loved her, her students loved her."

McGhee was a team player and would share with other teachers, Spears said.

"She was very generous with her stuff and she would work hours on plans and she shared them with us," Spears said. "And organized like you had never, she just, the most organized, her lesson plans are already done for the year. She's that organized."

But what Spears loved most about her was the relationship McGhee had with her students.

Keri Najmola, another fifth grade teacher at HCA, had known McGhee for seven years and described her as "selfless."

"She was always so cool and calm and collected," Najmola said. "She helped everybody else calm their crazy — always so organized, always willing to help, she would do anything for you. And her students were her life."

In her memory

HCA is going to include a Maker's Space in one of its new buildings in honor of McGhee, Taylor said.

"Her family really wants to carry on the legacy of her work here, so we started an Ann Marie McGhee Maker's Space fund, so when we build our next project on site, we're going to include a Maker's Space in that building in honor of Ann Marie," Taylor said.

A maker's space is a space where kids can explore and be creative with books, Legos, arts and crafts, and more. Taylor said this will be something to remember McGhee by forever.

A celebration of life for McGhee is scheduled to be held 3 p.m. Saturday at The Big Red Barn in Aiken. To read her full obit, visit https://www.shellhouseriversfuneralhome.com/obituary/ann-mcghee.

Bile duct cancer

Bile duct cancer is a rare form of cancer and according to the American Cancer Society, approximately 8,000 people in the U.S. are diagnosed with it each year. The bile ducts connect the liver, gallbladder and small intestine. The cancer is mainly found in older people. The survival rate depends on where the cancer is located and how early it is detected.

The symptoms of bile duct cancer usually don't occur until later in the disease and an early diagnosis is difficult because of the location of the bile ducts, according to the American Cancer Society. The symptoms include jaundice, itching, light-colored/greasy stools, dark urine, abdominal (belly) pain, loss of appetite/weight loss, fever, nausea and vomiting.

The American Cancer Society notes that because the cancer is rare, however, these symptoms could be caused by something else.