Moultrie Middle mourns beloved teacher

Moultrie Middle School is mourning the death of Cecelia Dunleavy, who taught at the school for 20 years.

Moultrie Middle School principal Anna Dassing said Cecelia Dunleavy was the heart of Moultrie Middle School. She was also a prankster, sports fanatic, patient math teacher, mentor and great friend.

On Oct. 6, Dunleavy lost her 10-year battle with ovarian cancer. She retired from Moultrie this past summer, but her compassionate and caring nature never left the school where she taught for 20 years.

“She had one of the biggest hearts in the world. No one ever saw her complain,” said Stephanie Ross, a teacher at Moultrie who knew Dunleavy since the early 1990s.

Sally Seignious, a seventh-grade teacher at Moultrie, said Dunleavy “never stopped having a career” when she was sick. Dunleavy became a national board certified teacher while battling cancer.

When test scores came in each year, seventh-grade teacher Renee Moriarity said Dunleavy would “reanalyze scores, checking and rechecking trends.”

“She was eloquently verbal,” Moriarity said of Dunleavy, adding that she always seemed to know what to say in tough situations.

Dunleavy also was known for her sense of humor and making things interesting for her fellow teachers.

Gordon Robke said he walked into his classroom one day and was surprised to find a wall several feet high of old textbooks. Apparently, a staff member asked Dunleavy where the books should go and instead of pointing them in the right direction, she sent them to Robke’s room.

Even though she was a prankster, her co-workers said she garnered respect in the classroom.

“When she said something, that’s what it was going to be,” seventh-grade teacher Mary Miller said.

Fellow seventh-grade teacher Ann Hills said she was grateful to have worked with an educator who made an impact on her when she was a student at Moultrie.

“She not only wanted us to be successful in the classroom but in life,” she said.

Ross said Dunleavy went above and beyond to connect with her students by doing things like coaching intramural sports after school.

Eighth-grader Meagan Caraway said when she struggled in math last year, Dunleavy would tutor her in the morning before school started.

“She taught me to work hard,” Megan said as she wiped away tears.

Eighth-grader De’Andre Davis also was influenced by Dunleavy. He said she was the best math teacher he ever had because she knew how to break things down and interact with students. He said she made him want to be a better student.

Dassing said Dunleavy rarely missed school. She would take a day off when she had to undergo chemotherapy, but would be back the next day.

“Her illness ... did not define her,” she said.

Dunleavy lived her life to the fullest outside the classroom, too.

The seventh-grade teachers remember her doing a 60-mile, multiday run in Washington, D.C., to raise money for cancer.

“She was as strong for us as we were for her. She battled cancer with dignity and beauty,” Ross said.

Students and faculty will continue to remember her every year on Sept. 25, which they have named Dunleavy Day. Last month during the inaugural celebration, students, faculty and staff were able to leave well-wishes for her in a video. They also dedicated their gym to her, now called Dunleavy Den.

Both Megan and De’Andre said grieving is easier because they are surrounded by the Moultrie community.

“This is our family. When one cries in the building, we all cry,” De’Andre said.

Ross said the thing she will miss most about Dunleavy is her friendship.

“She taught me how to be a great friend and to live life to the fullest no matter what life gives you,” she said.

Dunleavy is survived by her husband, George J. Dunleavy, three stepchildren and her sisters, Stacy Hall, Andrea Hill and Nancy Gautier.

Reach Jade McDuffie at 937-5560 or jmcduffie@postandcourier.com.