Students and faculty of McDuffie County schools lost a dear friend last week. Jo Albert-Hill, media specialist at Thomson-McDuffie Middle School, died on Tuesday, Oct. 19.
"The faculty at the middle school, we were like a big family," said retired middle school principal Claude Powell. "And, now one of the family members is gone. It just took us all by surprise. We will miss her."
Mrs. Hill had been working in the school system since 1998, first as an executive secretary, then a school technology specialist, then media specialist.
"She was a go-getter. If a problem came up, Jo was going to hang with it until she figured out how it was supposed to be. It wasn't going to whip her. That was the tenacity that Jo had. ... She didn't dance in the spotlight. But, you knew her presence was there because when the dust settled, things got done and you knew who was behind it -- that was Jo," Mr. Powell said with a pause. "That was Jo."
Mr. Powell said Mrs. Hill worked under him as a technology specialist, and continued doing that while she went to school and did her apprenticeship work to become a media specialist. When the new Thomson-McDuffie Junior High School was built three years ago, she became the media specialist there. Then-principal Steve Rhodes said Mrs. Hill was involved in the planning, layout, design and implementation of all media services at the new school.
"Quite frankly, it was a model media environment. The place runs like a well-oiled machine," Mr. Rhodes said. "Jo loved reading and inspired those around her to catch the fever and love of reading.... She created an atmosphere of free-thinking, where kids were encouraged to think outside the box and to see life outside of their small part of the world in Thomson, Georgia.... Just think of the many children who developed a love of reading during her tenure as media specialist. Her contributions to those children will carry forward for many generations."
Teachers and faculty remembered Mrs. Hill at the annual Teacher of the Year Banquet this past Monday night and dedicated the banquet to her memory, because she "always worked diligently behind the scenes to make this program special," the program revealed.
Science teacher Clint Hilson said Mrs. Hill always was busy and rarely slowed down. But when she did, he said conversations with her were interesting and special. Mr. Hilson talked about Mrs. Hill's recent work in taking the portraits of each Teacher of the Year for the media packet. He said she was so busy giving instructions that they were worried she was going to fall in a stream behind her. Instead, Mrs. Hill simply hopped across the stream and stood on a rock in the middle of it.
"We all had our camera phones ready to catch her as she fell in, but she didn't fall in," he said. "I will always remember that."
Mr. Rhodes said Mrs. Hill loved nature and spoke passionately of her vacations to the deserts out West.
"She would describe the silence of the desert and how calming, beautiful and reviving it was," he said. "If you could not get a feel of the beauty of the desert from her vocal descriptions, you could certainly see it in her stunning photographs."
Mrs. Hill is survived by her husband, Steve, daughters Jessica and Helen, sister Paula Parsick of Stafford, Va., and brother, Paul Albert of Lakeland, Fl.
A special celebration of Mrs. Hill's life will be held at Pine Top Farm in Thomson from 11 a.m. until 2 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 30. All of her friends, students and former students are invited. Everyone is asked to bring a covered dish, wear bright, comfortable clothes, and be ready to exchange stories.
"To describe Jo, you can't leave out her impressionable smile," Mr. Rhodes said. "She could approach my office on what seemed a terrible day, and as she left, I would find myself happier and feeling better about things. And she would leave peanuts. She knew I loved peanuts and kept a container for me in the media center."
In lieu of flowers or those who are unable to attend the celebration are urged to read a book to a child, take a trip out West, rescue a Labrador Retriever or become an advocate for a local school, public library or fine arts program.
"Most importantly, never stop learning," the family said on the invitation.