Stroke of inspiration motivates others

IT takes a lot to slow down Mary Baxter, who has lived and taught in the Shoalhaven for 28 years. Not even a brain embolism or a stroke could do it.

Next week she is retiring from St John the Evangelist Catholic High School after what has been an extraordinary journey. 

In 2011 Mrs Baxter was gardening when she had a massive brain embolism, which her doctors said could have happened at any time. 

While in the intensive care unit she had another stroke, which she laughingly admitted might have been her fault.

“I kept badgering and badgering the nurses to let me out of the bed,” she said. 

“They got me sat down in a chair and then…”

It’s this tenacity in the face of adversity that characterises Mary Baxter. 

Despite the fact that she nearly died, the teacher spent most of 2012 in rehabilitation and came back for a final year at St John’s.

“She’s an inspiration,” said fellow teacher Nick Garner. 

“When I applied for my job I was straight out of school and she took a bit of a gamble on me. She was my mentor.

“She has a fantastic work ethic. She is the kind of teacher I want to be.”

Since 1999 Mrs Baxter has been teaching science at St John’s and in 2003 became the science faculty co-ordinator. 

After the year she took off for rehabilitation she could no longer be co-ordinator but said the school was extraordinarily supportive. 

“I couldn’t have gone back to just any school,” she said.

By 2013 all the students at St John’s had laptops and after some extra training, technology helped bridge small gaps in Mrs Baxter’s memory. 

“She really challenged herself to learn,” said assistant principal Sandra Hogan.

“I think Mary wanted to leave on her own terms.”

Since January Mrs Baxter has created an interactive biology e-book, with activities and links for students to work through.  

“It helps me as well because I can work through it chapter by chapter,” she said.

“My short-term memory isn’t what it was so I have to plan each lesson and have to-do lists and everything.”

When asked why she didn’t retire in 2011 Mrs Baxter said, “This is what I do. 

“I think coming back to school has been the best physio I could do, being around the energy of the kids and keeping up with them.”

Mrs Baxter plans to spend her retirement helping her family. 

With six grandchildren – and another one due in April – as well as two elderly parents who are still working, she’s sure to stay busy.

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