Over the weekend, I was honored to present the eulogy for Mrs. Pat Burak, a lifelong resident of this area and former colleague at Tallassee High School. Her contributions to our community were so great, it seems only proper to remember her in this space today.
Many of you know Mrs. Pat Burak spent quite a few years working in our school system as a jobs coach. She fully believed in the worth of every student, but seemed to especially gravitate toward students who might not have a stable home life, a belief in God, or a path of advanced placement courses and good grades ahead of them.
She would take these students who were sometimes a little rough around the edges and prepare them for life after high school. She would go with them to a local business and put them to work, staying side by side with them until they could make it on their own. But before they could go to work, she would make sure they looked professional. She kept a clothes closet in her classroom
and solicited donations from the rest of us, but also spent plenty of her own money on our students as she taught them how to succeed. Her influence is so great on this community, I don’t know if we could even try to estimate how many people are living their best life today because of her.
One of the stores where Pat placed students was Super Foods. Owner David Lawrence said, “she was one of the most patient people I’ve ever known.”
The faculty of Tallassee High School has spent the past few days remembering this wonderful lady, and I would like to share some of their comments with you.
Our principal, Chet Stewart, had this to say: “She cared deeply for her students and wanted them to succeed in life after high school.”
School board chairman and former science teacher Don Bryant said, “what a privilege it was to teach three daughters of such ‘good raising,’ and to be grateful for her willing help as a Music Booster parent over SEVERAL years.”
Home Economics teacher Connie Riddle said, “the first thing I think about is her smile. She always wore it no matter the day or situation.”
Government & Economics teacher John Mask had this to say. “She would always lend an ear for me and listen to any problems I might have. She was an amazing Teacher, Friend, Mother and Wife. What a legacy.”
Science teacher Joan Nightengale wrote, “Our friendship, along with Lauri Biegler, extended outside the classroom as we enjoyed many loooooong dinners together sharing confidences.”
Math teacher Aimee Crawford said, “Pat was one of those mothers who was willing to go above and beyond to make sure her child enjoyed all of the fun and activities from selling cookies outside of Wal-Mart to helping set up tables and mix punch for World Day. Anytime I needed her, for any reason, Pat was there.”
Science teacher Mary Ellen Manning commented, “I remember her fantastic smile. No matter what was going on, she was always smiling.”
Dr. Brock Nolin, Superintendent of Tallassee City Schools, taught at THS and shared these words:
“She and I had the same lunch wave.... Even when we were talking at the lunch table about our ‘teacher frustrations’ she would balance it with a smile and say ‘that's what we get paid for’.
In every recollection from our faculty, the word that kept coming up was her smile. It didn’t matter where you might find yourself, this woman was in a perpetual state of happy. There were times, not just at school but next door at Super Foods or even right here in this church, when I wanted to be in a bad mood about something. And here she’d come, being all friendly and smiling, and before long she had reminded me of all the positives in life. And like many of you, I’d forget what I was upset about in the first place, because as she showed us — kindness always comes first.
In a final act of giving, three people are alive today with healthy organs because of her. Mrs. Burak was a living example of the corporal works of mercy. She fed the hungry. She gave drink to the thirsty. She gave clothing to the poor.
Our world is screaming for more people like Pat Burak.
Wouldn’t it be something if we could take this testimony of her life and spread it around when we leave here today? When we are blessed with the resources to help others, perhaps take the extra step of sharing it with people who need it more than we do. And maybe the next time we are grouchy and ready to say something negative to somebody, think of her example and instead . . . just smile.
Michael Bird is a teacher for Tallassee City Schools and a longtime weekly columnist for The Tribune.