PEABODY — Maryellen McGrath could have retired six years ago. She was eligible. She had plenty to do with a second job as a travel agent. Plans to buy a restaurant would soon develop, as well.
But she stayed because she got the chance to cap her four decades in education as principal of South Memorial Elementary School.
“This is the gem of Peabody schools,” she said. “I have wonderful teachers. And fabulous students.”
She’s retiring now, on Jan. 31, after six years guiding South School and 41 years in education, all of it working in Peabody elementary schools.
“Her dedication to the community and the children of the district has been unsurpassed,” Superintendent Joseph Mastrocola said. He acknowledged that it won’t be easy finding a replacement.
“She’s a gracious lady,” said School Committee member Beverley Ann Griffin Dunne. “A beloved teacher and a beloved principal. They really love her.”
McGrath, 62, grew up in downtown Peabody as Maryellen Horgan.
“And I’m still here,” she says proudly, albeit now in West Peabody. She sees Peabody as the sort of community that people get attached to and stay and raise their families. She certainly did that with her daughter and son.
McGrath attended Salem State and was drawn to teaching from an early age.
“It was my dream as a little girl,” she said.
She also had some pretty clear goals regarding the education process.
“I wanted children to be happy to come to school every day,” she said. “At the end of the day when the bell rang, they would sigh because they would have to leave.”
Growing close to her students was inevitable.
“The children that sit in front of you — sometimes it seems you are there with them more than you are with your own children,” she said.