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Mary Jo Myslinski Remembered for Leadership, Fairness and Friendship

Myslinski, a popular educator in town for many years, passed away on Jan. 3.

Mary Jo Myslinski. Photo Credit: Center Road School.
Mary Jo Myslinski. Photo Credit: Center Road School.
Perhaps fittingly, the educational career of Mary Jo Myslinski can be described in an alliterative fashion. 

She went from parent, to paraprofessional to principal.

And her legacy can be placed on a pedestal, according to those who knew her well.  

Myslinski, a popular educator in town for many years, passed away at her mother's home in Salem, MA, on Jan. 3 after long illness. 

She was 63. 

Educators in Vernon on Monday returned to the first full week of classes after the long holiday break mourning the loss of a woman they described as a trusted colleague and respected administrator.

"In the working world, many of us know that when it comes to bosses, they are not always true leaders. They can make you feel small, inferior, and downright worthless. In the seven-and-a-half years I worked for Mary Jo, there was not a day I felt any of those things," Center Road School teacher Tammi Venzie said in an emotional post on Facebook. "She pushed us to do our best, but always let us know how appreciated we were just through a quick e-mail or note on the daily attendance. She was tough, but always fair and compassionate. I am proud to have been her colleague because that was how she made me feel - not her subordinate, but her colleague. I know she is at peace, but my heart breaks for her family and those who are no longer graced by her wonderful spirit."

Superintendent of Schools Mary Conway said that feeling was widespread regarding someone who, "touched may people in Vernon for many years in various roles."

Indeed, CRS teacher Peggy Wilde said, "She was the best boss ever."

Myslinski was already a parent in the system with her first daughter, Tara, but in 1981, when her second daughter, Laura, started kindergarten, she began working at Center Road School as a paraprofessional.

She was a teacher as well. 

Myslinski became principal at CRS in 2001 and remained there until 2010. 

Patricia Buell, the current director of personnel for the school system, was a principal at the same time. 

"I respected her very much and will miss her. She was very enthusiastic and deeply committed to the students and staff at Center Road School," Buell said. "She took pride in the many successes they experienced under her leadership and always gave credit to her hard-working staff, students and supportive families. Mary Jo was respected by her fellow administrators and loved by all who had the great fortune to work with her. 

"She was a bright, gentle leader who advocated for what was right for students and families of the Vernon public schools."

Wilde said Myslinski had a knack for never bombarding the staff with mandates from above.

"She was able to apply everything that was given to us at the state and local levels in bits and pieces," Wilde said. 

Wilde said it was part of Myslinski's adaptability and recalled another story. A tumor was limiting the movement in her left side and Myslinski was left-handed. She learned to write with the opposite hand. 

"And after a while, when she wrote her name with her right hand, it looked almost the same," Wilde said. "Amazing … She was one of the strongest women I have ever known."  

CRS teacher Darby Schwartz was close to Myslinski and composed a letter to her on Christmas Day that Myslinski's husband, Carl, read to her. She echoed Wilde's sentiments regarding mandates and also praised Myslinski the person. 

"Let it be a comfort to you to know that you have earned the respect of so many people," Schwartz wrote. "I can think of no other administrator to whom that could apply …

"… The beautiful thing about it is you are so humble that you wouldn't even realize the extent of the respect you have earned. You think you are just an ordinary person. Nope."

She continued, "You have an intellectual and common-sense approach - a rare combination of traits. You continue to be always referred to with the highest esteem … 

"… I hope that you can find comfort and peace knowing and believing the impact of your influence and your legacy."

Visiting hours are scheduled for Tuesday from 4 to 8 p.m. at the Murphy Funeral Home, 85 Federal St., Salem, MA. A funeral mass, officiated by Monsignor John Myslinski, is scheduled for St. Thomas Church in Peabody, MA, at 9 a.m. on Wednesday, followed by the burial at the Greenlawn Cemetery in Salem. 

In lieu of flowers, donations can be made in her name to the Make a Wish Foundation, One Bullfinch Place, 2nd Floor, Boston, MA 02114 - boston@massri.wish.org. 

Schwartz was told by the family on Monday that a memorial service will be organized locally at a time and date to be determined.

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