Mary  Gardner

Mary  Will  Cavitt  Gardner


Mary Will Gardner (left) smiles as a student shares memories of Gardner’s class during a program at Rhea Public Library honoring the former staff and teachers of the Henry County Training School. Also pictured (right) is former HCTS teacher Nellie Bass.

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Longtime Paris Special School District teacher Mary Will Cavitt Gardner, 101, of Paris died Friday, June 8, 2012, at her residence.

Her funeral will be at 2 p.m. Tuesday at Quinn Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Paris, where she was the church’s oldest member.

The Revs. Otto Duncan and Charlene Boone will officiate. Burial will follow in Maplewood Cemetery.

Visitation is set from 5-7 p.m. today at Trinity Funeral Home.

Born July 4, 1910, in Paris, she was the daughter of the late Ernest and Mattie Vandyke Cavitt.

She was married on May 2, 1943, to Oscar Gardner, who died in December 2007.

Gardner was a graduate of Joliet Township High School and Joliet Junior College, both in Joliet, Ill. She received a bachelor’s degree, magna cum laude, in education from Lane College in Jackson. She retired after teaching first grade in Paris Special School District for 43 years. At Quinn Chapel Church, she taught Sunday school. She was a member of the Retired Teachers Association and Order of the Eastern Star.

She leaves Diane Travis-Teague of Santa Barbara, Calif., who a family member called a loving and devoted goddaughter; and She leaves Diane Travis-Teague of Santa Barbara, Calif., who a family member called a loving and devoted goddaughter; and several special friends.

Published: Monday, June 11, 2012


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Fond memories were relived as nearly 50 former students and teachers of a long-gone school gathered Saturday at Rhea Public Library to share stories and honor the staff of their alma mater.

“Does anyone remember the old red dirt baseball field?” James Travis, master of ceremonies, asked.

Travis explained the field had been part of the campus of the Henry County Training School, a school built in the 1920s by the City of Paris.

Mary Will Gardner, who is now 101 years old, was both a student and teacher at the school. She was the special honoree during the Saturday program.

The school served black children in grades 1-8 until schools in the Paris Special School District were integrated in 1967-68.

Along with the physical properties of the school, Travis said he thought what set the school apart from others was the relationships he had with his teachers both in school and out of school.

“We have to get back to relationships if we want to have an effective educational system,” Travis said.

“It’s good to look back and realize where we came from,” student George Combs Jr. said.

“No one ever does anything by themselves,” Combs said. “In reality we always have a helping hand behind us.”

One of these helping hands in Combs’ life was his first-grade teacher and neighbor, Gardner.

“Not only was I taught by sister Gardner, at Henry County Training School, I also saw the Lord work within her and through her,” Combs said.

He remembered when it was cold or rainy Gardner would drive around the neighborhood and pick up children in her station wagon to take them to school.

“She was a blessing not only to me, but this entire community,” Combs said.

Paris Mayor Sam Tharpe remembered crying when his mother decided to transfer him to a different school in his third-grade year.

He had attended HCTS for his first and second grades, and Gardner was his teacher during first grade.

Tharpe said the teachers at HCTS “ran a classroom like no other. I wish teachers could see it today.”

“The teachers had a passion for students,” he said. “They demanded respect and were dedicated to teaching us.”

Travis, who attended the school and now serves as a commissioner for Henry County, indicated his relationship with his former teacher had lasted well beyond his school days.

Travis remembered when he ran for public office, he had gone first to Gardner to get her to sign his petition.

Instead of signing, Gardner reminded Travis he had not fulfilled a promise to hang a plaque given to her by her church on her 100th birthday.

Travis said he headed back home to get his hammer and nails so he could hang the plaque as promised.

Students attended HCTS for nearly 50 years before it closed. The building that housed the school was razed in 1970.

Published: Monday, February 20, 2012


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Paris, Tennessee