By Susan Hale Thomas (Photo/Susan Hale Thomas)
“It’s the quiet moments that bring me to tears,” said T.C. Williams principal Suzanne Maxey.
He was a difficult student from last year. She was his mentor. He always was getting into mischief.
“Until the last day, I was bailing him out of trouble,” she said.
Shortly after graduation, when all of the fledgling seniors had left T.C. for good, he came back.
After a brief visit between principal and former student, he needed to be on his way. As he left, she said with the voice of a mother, “Now you walk out of here and you do good things. You stay out of trouble.”
The young man asked her for a hug and headed for the exit. But before he was through the door, he hesitated and turned to look at her.
“You know Ms. Maxey,” he gestured with his diploma in his hand, “I would have never gotten this without you. I really love you.”
He turned and walked away into the world.
“Those kinds of moments, how do you ever replace that?” she asked with misty eyes.
After five years as principal of T.C. Williams and more than 40 years working as an educational professional, Suzanne Maxey announced her retirement last week.
The decision to retire was both personal and professional. Maxey and her husband, Bob Maxey, the director of student activities at Mount Vernon High School, decided the timing was right for both of them to retire.
Maxey started working when she was 15, so she said retirement will take some getting used to.
“I’m one of those people who loves to work, to be productive,” she said. “I’m very worried I’m going to lose my meaning of life. People who know me really well think I’m going to be back working in six months because I’m missing work. … I’m not really excited about leaving what I do. I really like what I do, as frustrating as it can be.”
Despite the rigors of the job, the rewards Maxey has accumulated from her long career are infinite. Bob Maxey described his wife as wanting to see every student succeed and save every one of them, earning her the nickname Mother Maxey.
“She has the uncanny ability to smile at you, while she’s just tearing you up from one end to the other, and at the same time saying she understands and is there for you,” he said. “Kids respect that.”
A former kicker for the New York Jets in the 1970s, Bob said the love of sport was one of the reasons he married Suzanne. She was also a high school athlete and played basketball and field hockey while also being on the gymnastics team.
“She’s a real sports enthusiast and likes to see kids on the outside of the classroom as well,” he said.
She was principal of Bowie High School when its football team made the state final, and she made a deal with the cheerleaders that for every point the team scored in the game, she would do pushups on the field with the squad.
“When the team scored, she ran down the steps of the University of Maryland’s football stadium, jumped the fence and did six pushups,” Bob Maxey said. “Well, this went on all night because the team won and scored a total of 21 points. She was looking a little rough on those last few pushups.”
Kevin Perry graduated from T.C. in 2014 and is a freshman at Delaware State. Perry is majoring in accounting, plays football and hopes to work for the FBI after graduation investigating fraud. He was thankful to have had Maxey in his life.
“Ever since I first met Mama Maxey, she was supportive and confident in me and pushed me in academics and on the field,” Perry said. “I love her for that. She was always fun to be around and came out to support the football team. As a college student and football player now, my mindset is to do the right thing every time. When I look at my work, I can hear Mama Maxey saying ‘Strive for the best, Kevin.'”
The Maxeys have two sons and two granddaughters and are building a new home in Clarksburg, Md. to be closer to their family. Maxey would like to spend more time with her mother, who lives in Maryland and is suffering from dementia. The trip to see her mother every weekend isn’t enough, she said.
“She needs more of me than that,” she said.
When she was hired, Maxey said she expected to stay with the job five years.
“I have this theory: You come into a school that needs things done, and you do all of these things and you move and you groove and you’re exhausted,” she said. “[You] kind of lose a little bit of your mojo, for lack of better way of saying it. And you really need to move on and let someone else come in with fresh eyes who will then make other kinds of changes. I think that’s how schools stay fresh.”
But it’s doubtful schools will ever be far from Maxey’s life nor will the love of the students fade anytime soon. Mention a T. C. pep rally and her face lights up.
“When you go into that gym … and you see 3,000 kids going, ‘Everywhere we go people want to know… Ooo ahhh,’ and you look around this sea of kids and they’re all doing the same thing,” she said. “That’s neat to bring together such diversity that we have. They’re all on the same page and that’s pretty special.”
Superintendent Alvin Crawley lauded Maxey for her years of service to ACPS students.
“Suzanne has been more than just a strong instructional leader, who has been a real champion for her students,” he said. “She has always put the needs of her students first and we have been lucky to have her.”
And Mother Maxey offered a few words of advice for students before she leaves at the end of the school year.
“Don’t sell yourself short and believe in yourself. You don’t get in life what you want; you get what you work for. Keep a sense of humor. Life is short. Enjoy it!”