In her obituary, Mary Mullen Guiendon’s family requested that books be sent to schools instead of flowers being sent to them.
It was a testament to the late Button Gwinnett Elementary School principal’s dedication to the children she served, and the Liberty County School System on Tuesday honored her commitment with a memorial service.
About 300 people attended, including staff from Joseph Martin Elementary School, where Guiendon served as assistant principal before moving to Button Gwinnett in 2011.
Guiendon died Dec. 12 in a car accident in Bryan County. The Rochester, Pa., native lived in Richmond Hill for the past nine years. She earned her master’s in education from Georgia College in Milledgeville and her bachelor’s degree from Mercyhurst University in Erie, Pa.
“Mary was my friend; she was the big sister that I never had,” said Mesh Morris, curriculum coordinator for Joseph Martin. “And believe me, on many occasions, she reminded me that she was the big sister, but it was all cool.”
Morris at times incited laughter with stories about the fun she had with Guiendon, how Guiendon reacted when helping others resolve computer problems — “it didn’t matter if it was as simple as turning off the computer or turning it back on, but you better believe you were going to get that Mary Guiendon stare,” she said.
She reiterated that “her door was open,” no matter the situation.
Morris quoted JME teacher Rebecca Metivier, who said “‘Mary had the appearance of being tough and rough on the outside, but just like bread pudding on the inside — warm and so sweet.’”
She also highlighted Guiendon’s antics to motivate students, such as dressing as a baby along with retired JME principal Sue Tolley and letting students feed them; allowing students to smash pies in her face if they met a goal; or letting them tape her to a gymnasium wall.
Morris said her daughter offered a spiritual sentiment about why Guiendon passed when she did: “She said, ‘Mom, I know why this happened … God chose Mrs. Guiendon to watch over the little angels in Connecticut.’ Now, who better than Principal Guiendon because she had done a wonderful job at Joseph Martin; she was doing a beautiful job with her staff and children here. So, I say to you, let’s not mourn Mrs. Guiendon anymore because she is now doing what she really loved.”
Other speakers included BGE Assistant Principal Delores Crawford, BGE curriculum coordinator Beverly Faircloth and LCSS Superintendent Dr. Judy Scherer.
Faircloth spoke about the shock of Guiendon’s passing, saying it “hit us like a ton of bricks.”
But she offered encouragement by reading an excerpt from “The Next Place” by Warren Hanson, a book that will be available in the school’s media center.
Guiendon’s husband Joe Guiendon and daughter, Meghan Driggers, sat front and center during the ceremony, surrounded by other family and LCSS administrators.
Driggers wiped tears from her eyes throughout the service, which concluded with fifth-grade students singing “You Raise Me Up.”
But afterward, she approached students who looked upset and offered them kind words and reassurance.
“Don’t cry,” she told one of them. “I’m her daughter; it’s going to be OK.”
Liberty County Board of Education Chairwoman Lily Baker, who offered an invocation at the ceremony, also spoke about the late principal.
“Mary had a very beautiful personality. She was very warm, very caring …” Baker said. “I never saw her with a frown or a grumble on her face. She was an exciting person to be around. We’re going to miss her. We’re going to really miss her because she really cared about the kids, and we loved what she was doing.”