In her many years at Colorado Academy, Kindergarten Teacher Leslie Webster loved and was loved by many children, parents, colleagues past and present, and friends.
So it came as no surprise that on a snowy Sunday morning, more than 1,300 people filled the CA Field House to honor her life and legacy.
“Today is a day meant for tears,” Head of School Dr. Mike Davis told CA parents, children, and Leslie’s family. “Tears are just one of the many ways that we share with others that we are doing the hard work of grieving for someone we really loved.”
But Davis also assured everyone that it was okay to laugh at favorite stories about Mrs. Webster. “Leslie’s classroom was a place of joy and laughter,” he said. “Her approach with students was to see the best in every child.”
Led by Dr. Davis, CA remembered Leslie Webster through music, songs, readings, and stories.
“We know she loved teaching, she loved her students, she loved dogs, and she loved West Virginia, the place she was from,” he said. “She loved sports. She loved watching the University of West Virginia football games with her dad, and she loved the university’s Mountaineer Marching Band. She loved lacrosse and being on the sidelines here watching CA’s teams play. She loved her colleagues and her neighbors, and she loved her family—her husband Stephen and her daughters Maddie and Carolyn. She loved her family with all of her heart—a heart that was generous and giving. She loved in big ways.”
Once Upon a Time
The Celebration of Life included readings from Kate O’Donnell and Mary Singer, friends and Lower School colleagues. Mary read a letter that Leslie had written to one of her Kindergarten classes at the end of the school year.
“I hope we see each other again. I hope that when we do whether you are seven or 27, we can look at one another with a smile and remember that Once Upon a Time, you were five, and Once Upon a Time, I was your teacher.”
CA Classical Guitar Instructor Andrew Friedrich performed “Simple Gifts,” one of Leslie’s favorite pieces, dating back to her years in West Virginia. Upper School teacher Elissa Wolf-Tinsman led the responsive reading “A Litany of Remembrance” and also recalled the day she had arrived at her new home in Colorado, weary after a cross-country drive, to find her neighbors, Leslie and Stephen, standing there to welcome her to a new state.
A video tribute to Leslie evoked tears and laughter, with the classic moments of a school year—hugs on the first day of school, elaborate Halloween costumes, classic Kindergarten classroom moments with tape and scissors, “Baby Beluga” at Kindergarten graduation, and memories from Seventh Grader Harper Hodgson, memories which represented the thoughts of hundreds of CA students.
“The day I walked into Kindergarten, I was nervous until I saw your friendly face. I learned many things from you but most of all, I learned the meaning of kindness and patience. The job you do is not an easy one, but you make it look easy. Children learn by example, your example. You have created an amazing community just by being you.”
Dawn Robinson, a Lower School colleague and friend, read a letter Leslie had written to her younger daughter, praising her courage.
“Carolyn, you are funny, kind, and accepting of everyone. Your desire to help others after college is an example of your giving spirit. I love you more than words can ever express.”
Leslie Mease, a family friend, read a letter by Maddie Webster to her mother, thanking her for the 22 years they had together, during which her mother shared unforgettable lessons on kindness and love.
Finally, Stephen Webster spoke. He remembered courting his wife in a VW Beetle, which he still owns. He shared a poem that he had written to her on their wedding day. Again and again, he talked about his wife, not just as a beloved mother and teacher, but also as his very best friend.
The Upper School Choir, led by Director Kevin Padworski, and joined by Lower School music teachers Nora Golden and Brenda Bartel, took the room back to Leslie’s roots, with a performance of John Denver’s “Country Roads.” Instrumental Music Instructor Phil Jones ended the Celebration with a solo trumpet version of “Simple Gifts.”
As people left, they pinned small yellow and blue ribbons to their coats. “Wear it,” Dr. Davis explained, “and when your friends or colleagues ask about it, tell them you are remembering a teacher, a role model, and a dear friend.”