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On a cool spring day during the second semester of the 2012-2013 school year, Los Alamos High School had what at first seemed like a regular fire drill. Little did Marilyn Fabry know, however, that it was a fake fire drill — a secret plan to stage a pep rally for the LAHS mathematics teacher who was stoically battling cancer.
As the alarms buzzed, students clad in orange congregated on the steps of the amphitheater by the new building, waving signs with inspirational words for Fabry, determined to surprise and support her.
A massive tubular orange air-puppet named George rippled in the breeze, a gleaming smile on his face. As the crowd grew, a group of teachers scuttled around, plugging in speakers and making last minute preparations for the surprise.
“It was probably the best kept secret on this campus,” said LAHS principal Sandra Warnock, in retrospect.
Then the double doors at the bottom of the amphitheater opened and out came Fabry, unsuspecting and sporting a knitted hat, pushed in a wheelchair by her daughter Stephanie Pittman, who also works at LAHS.
All at once, students cheered and screamed, speakers blasted Fabry’s favorite songs by the Beach Boys and the Beatles and teachers danced. The crowd began to chant, “Orange Crush it!” over and over in honor of her favorite soda, Orange Crush, and in a collective determination to help her “crush” cancer.
Fabry regarded the spectacle with an expression of utmost stupefaction and love, seemingly blown away by the outpouring of support she received.
“She visibly teared up,” said Joy Handsberry and Sherry Anderson, math teachers that both worked closely with Fabry. “She was overwhelmed by the support of all the kids and faculty and staff. She would never put herself out for attention.”
Despite her battle against the disease, LAHS lost Fabry to cancer on Aug. 31, a blow to co-workers, family and students.
“She is missed not only by students, but certainly by the staff. You can’t spend 19 years here and not have become part of the culture,” Warnock said.
Fabry made her mark on everyone at LAHS. Her son Andrew described her as a woman who “loved laughter” and was “unafraid to be herself,” and he and her fellow teachers remembered her as being exceptionally funny.
“She was a rascal. (A) Spitfire,” recalled Handsberry with a reminiscent laugh. “When I burned a bagel and the school had to evacuate, she hand-embroidered me a pillow of ‘BB,’ bagel burner.”
Anderson remembered when Fabry gave Handsberry “a besparkled, bedazzled toaster with a burned bagel” as a gift.
Her son Andrew was a student at LAHS at the same time that his mother taught there, and he recalled fond memories.
“I enjoyed taking a nap in her office before school started and I used her room as my locker,” he said.
Fabry also made an impact on the students she taught for the 19 years she was at LAHS. When she came to New Mexico with her husband, who sought a job opening for a youth minister at the White Rock Baptist Church, she began to teach at LAHS.
From day one “she embraced teaching the lower-level math classes. She could handle a room of kids who for most teachers, would honestly have been bouncing off the walls,” Handsberry said.
Her firm, yet humorous attitude and teaching style welcomed every student that walked into her classroom. “She made all of the students feel like they could do math. That is huge for any teacher to be able to let (students) understand that they can do anything,” Handsberry said.
Fabry came to school because she loved to see her students and realizing that she could not come back to teach at the beginning of this school year was the “saddest thing that she had to do through all of this. She did get really teared up when she said (she couldn’t) be there for the kids,” Anderson said.
Fabry had a passion for teaching and spent a total of 38 years teaching at various schools.
“She’s definitely the kind of woman who would do anything for her kids, including her biological ones and the ones that she taught,” her son said.
Fabry’s resilience was remarkable. She handled the cancer with a certain “poise and grace,” in the words of Anderson, and she was always in a good mood.
“I couldn’t handle anything remotely like she did,” Handsberry said. “She had so much left to do and give, both to her family, to the school, to the community, to the church. She was so important to so many people.”
Her memorial was Sept. 7, and at her request, the service had a few unique touches. George the air puppet greeted the attendees and her favorite music was played.
The Los Alamos School Board declared Aug. 27 “Marilyn Fabry Day” in honor of the resilient, caring, funny and witty woman Fabry was. She is missed by family, friends, students, and co-workers and will be fondly remembered in everyone’s hearts.