When news of Mary Baker Eddy’s death reached her former students, many of them shared the same sentiment — that she was tough as nails but was their favorite teacher. Some shared stories of being in her class at either Winter Garden Elementary School or Dillard Street Elementary School, and they still can recall what the second-floor classroom looked like, how she loved her students and how she knew how to keep them in line.
Eddy, a longtime former educator, citrus grove owner and resident of Winter Garden, died Dec. 20, 2023, at the age of 99.
Eddy started life in Los Angeles as Mary Ross, born Feb. 13, 1924, to Otto and Flora Ross. As an adult, she lived for decades on property off Hartwood Marsh Road on Johns Lake. She and her first husband operated Eddy Groves for decades, growing the business to 103 acres.
Education was important to Eddy from an early age. After completing school, she earned several college degrees, including a master's degree in mathematics.
She married George Stetson Eddy of Winter Garden and had two children, Mary Ann and George. She began her teaching career at Winter Garden Elementary, where she helped mold the minds of thousands of children during her teaching career. When she retired, she began sightseeing all over the world collecting souvenirs and photographing her travels. After retiring her passport, she volunteered at the Orlando Science Center and Orlando Health — Health Central Hospital and gave slideshow presentations reliving her past years of travel.
REMEMBERING A BELOVED EDUCATOR
Russell Crouch is a former third-grade student who recalled Eddy having one of the only two classrooms in the upstairs portion.
“She was an awesome teacher who ran a tight ship and (had) a paddle that kept everyone straight, but she also showed how much she cared for us. She cared for her students and taught us a lot. I really believe Mrs. Eddy and other teachers that I had led me to be a teacher.”
Marietta Huckeba taught with Eddy at Dillard Street Elementary and recalled her positive attitude, her calm nature and her constant smile.
“She was able to take any situation and make it a teaching moment,” she said. “In her soft-spoken way, she guided the students she taught and brought out the best in them.”
Ken Rushing knew Mary and George Eddy from Calvary Baptist Church and later had her as his third-grade teacher at Winter Garden Elementary. He said she was tall, always smiling and had the most positive spirit.
“Her classroom had shiny, dark wood floors and stood at the north end of the building on the left just before you exited down the concrete steps to the sidewalk and ‘freedom,’” Rushing said. “She had everything organized with everything required to be in place. While Mrs. Eddy was an imposing figure to me as a third-grader … she always made me feel important. She encouraged us to always do our best and stressed the importance of reading. She did not tolerate foolishness, but she always included fun in our classroom.
“She is the teacher every parent would want their child to have as a third-grader,” Rushing said. “I was too immature at the time to appreciate it. But now, as a parent, I see how fortunate I was to have had her and many other great teachers at Winter Garden Elementary.”
Kim Rushing Mitchell, another student, said Eddy “made each day seem filled with possibilities.”
Jon Lee Fulford’s mother, Anna Belle Fulford, taught with Eddy at Dillard Street Elementary, and he had her as a teacher in fourth grade.
“I … remember her never-ending smile; she smiled at everything and everyone,” he said. “She was graceful and encouraging. But she also meant business — in a good sort of way.”
Fulford said he rarely got in trouble at school, but there was one time Eddy sent him to the front office for being unruly.
“Mrs. Eddy was truly one of the great teachers and molders of children,” Fulford said. “She cared about their learning and about how they conducted themselves in the public.”
Jill Pitchford-Dunn also was in Eddy’s third-grade class at Winter Garden Elementary.
“I just remembered her being very kind,” she said. “Her classroom was upstairs; there were only two upstairs that I remember. I would see her at the Winter Garden library, and she remembered me from all those years ago. … She was a lovely person.”
‘LOVE YOU, TAKE CARE, BYE-BYE’
Three of Eddy’s grandsons shared memories of her, each stressing how important family and education were to her.
“She was always engaged in our lives,” said grandson David Eddy. “Over the past 10 to 12 years, as I got involved in an aviation career, she was always eager to hear what I was flying, what my role was and where I was going. When I was a flight instructor, she was always interested in what topics I was teaching, the students I was teaching and where they were from.
“I taught people how to fly from all over the world, Asia, Europe and North and South America mostly. I would tell her stories about their backgrounds, and she would tell stories about visiting some of the same countries that my students were from. As I started flying around the U.S. and the globe she would be interested in the same. Always telling me spots she visited and what I should check out to see where she visited earlier in her life. …
“Since her passing, I have been listening to her numerous voicemails that she has left on my phone over the years, and it always ends the same, ‘Love you, take care, bye-bye,’” David Eddy said. “When I came back to see her right before she passed, she was awake enough to have a conversation with and she was the same person, wanting to know what I was doing and where I was flying off to. And her last words to me when we left were the same, ‘Love you, take care, bye-bye.’”
“She always wanted to know what my family was doing, how the kids were doing in school,” said another grandson, Lee Bekemeyer. “Always the teacher, she didn't beat around the bush much. She'd ask the straight question or tell it like it was.”
He remembers frequently going swimming in the lake near his grandparents’ home and Grandma Mary always carrying a bar of Ivory soap to suds up the grandchildren while they swam.
“And she’d shoot the gators if she saw them in the lake,” Bekemeyer said.
Grandson Joe Eddy lives on the property with his family. There are now 15 acres left of the original 103.
Joe Eddy’s father, George Joseph Eddy, ran the groves with his parents.
“She was very hands-on, and she would involve us in the work she would do” Joe Eddy said of his grandmother. “When it came time to check the sprinklers … we would be there with her checking the sprinklers. When it came time to plant the trees, we were there planting the trees with her.”
As much as Eddy enjoyed furthering her education and learning new things, she developed a passion for traveling after the back-to-back deaths of her father and her husband in the late 1970s. She retired from teaching and saw sights all around the world.
“She took a lot of notes about the different cultures; a lot of it was digging into the agriculture aspect of that country, how they grew, what they grew, how they worked the lands,” Joe Eddy said.
She was preceded in death by her two husbands, George Stetson Eddy, of Winter Garden, and Kenneth Baker, of Knoxville, Tennessee. She is survived by her two children, nine grandchildren and 15 great-grandchildren.
The family held a private ceremony Dec. 23, 2023, at the Winter Garden Cemetery and a celebration of life Jan. 20 at Calvary Baptist Church, Winter Garden. Winter Oak Funeral Home and Cremations was in charge of arrangements.
“Mrs. Mary Eddy was a wonderful lady who gave of herself to thousands of children in the Winter Garden area,” Rushing said. “She was the epitome of a true public servant. I was fortunate to know her, and her memory makes me smile.”
ED. NOTE: Ken Rushing sent a longer letter sharing more memories:
I was saddened to hear of the passing of Mrs. Mary Eddy but at the same time I am smiling because of my memories of her and her family. How lucky I am to have known such a great lady for 60 + years of her 99 years on this planet. You see I cannot remember a time when I did not know the Eddy family. I was just a little kid when I first met Mary and George Eddy at our local church, Calvary Baptist Church. She was a very tall lady who was always smiling, and she had the most positive spirit about her. They both taught Sunday School classes and loved our Lord Jesus Christ. When the church was building the new school building, it seemed like Mr. Eddy was there every day (like so many of the other church members) always walking around with a hammer on his belt and Mrs. Eddy was somewhere on the campus as well serving others. Both of their children (teenagers at that time) did the same thing with both playing various musical instruments on Sunday mornings during the service. Little did I know that Mary Eddy would be my third-grade teacher at Winter Garden Elementary School.
Her classroom had shiny dark wood floors and stood at the north end of the building on the left just before you exited down the concrete steps to the sidewalk and “freedom”. She had everything organized with everything required to be in place. While Mrs. Eddy was an imposing figure to me as a third grader (again, she was a tall lady, and I was a little kid) and she always made me feel important. She encouraged us to always do our best and stressed the importance of reading. She did not tolerate foolishness, but she always included fun in our classroom. Of course, we got in lines to go everywhere (recess/playground, lunchroom, bathroom, etc.) and she kept a sharp eye to ensure our lines were straight and ended up at the intended destination versus the aimless wandering we would have preferred. Mrs. Eddy would share stories about her family’s orange grove operations and farm. She is the teacher every parent would want their child to have as a third grader. I was too immature at the time to appreciate it but now as a parent I see how fortunate I was to have had her and many other great teachers at WG Elementary (Bruce, Hawk, Fulford, etc.).
As I grew older, I would continue to see Mrs. Eddy at church and around Winter Garden at various events. She was always positive, full of energy and encouraging, wanting to know what was going on in my life. Many years later when I was working as Postmaster in WG I would see Mrs. Eddy in the lobby, and we would catch up on life each time we met. I was always impressed how she had juggled a family, her career, and an orange grove operation. She was amazing!
Mrs. Mary Eddy was a wonderful lady who gave of herself to thousands of children in the Winter Garden area. She was the epitome of a true public servant. I was fortunate to know her, and her memory makes me smile!