Friends and colleagues of Franklin Forest Elementary School first grade teacher Michelle Woody remembered her as outgoing, uplifting and energetic, and passionate about her job, church and family.
Woody, 39, died Monday, succumbing to head trauma she suffered after she fell down steps at her home early Nov. 28.
Serenity Graham, third grade teacher at Franklin Forest Elementary School, who knew Woody for more than a decade, said she still had not fully processed the news Tuesday.
“I still feel like it’s a bad dream; it’s surreal,” she said.
The situation started to weigh heavier on Graham after returning to school Monday, noting Woody’s absence.
“I just kept expecting to see her come down the hallway, say ‘Hey Graham, how was your break,’ and I didn’t,” she said as tears streamed down her face.
Graham was 18 years old when she first met Woody, teaching her daughter Nicole Woody at gymnastics instruction center Tumble Town. When Graham received her teaching degree, she became a second grade teacher at Unity Elementary School, and Nicole Woody was in her first class, then she taught her again when she moved to third grade the next year.
Michelle Woody had a business administration degree, but in 2003 became a kindergarten assistant at Unity Elementary School, which prompted her to go back to school to receive a teaching degree. While attending University of Phoenix, she worked at the front desk at Unity, then began as a third grade teacher.
“I enjoy teaching and reaching students,” Woody wrote in her online staff profile for Franklin Forest. “To see them grow from the first day of school to the last day. To see that “aha moment” that the students have (and) be a positive role model for the younger generation.”
When Unity Elementary School was closed last year, Graham said Woody was one of the first to find out about her reassignment to Franklin Forest. After texting Graham to let her know, Graham said much of the day passed without her receiving her assignment, and she began to worry that she would be out of a job.
“So when I finally found out, I did text Michelle and I said ‘FFE too,’ and it was nice to know that there was a group of us going together and coming over here together,” Graham said. “… I knew a lot of the teachers (at Franklin Forest), because my children have grown up coming to this school, so when she came down and said she told me first grade and named (the teachers), I told her she was lucky and had a great team. She was really excited.”
Cara Watts, first grade teacher at Franklin Forest, met Woody last year when staff at Franklin Forest greeted the incoming teachers. Although only meeting Woody briefly, they began to converse through texts during the summer and made a quick bond. Although she only worked with Woody for a few months, Watts said she made an impression on her.
“She’s a very kind, loving person,” Watts said. “She wasn’t one who would overstep her boundaries. She was observant. She would lead if she needed to lead, but was willing to let someone show her what (they) thought needed to be done.”
Franklin Forest Elementary principal Carol Montgomery said Woody touched many lives at the school during her short time there. She said Woody will be missed and the outpouring of support in the wake of Woody’s death “is a testament to her kind and generous spirit.”
Watts said Woody was very helpful with the transition of students from Unity Elementary.
“They were excited to see her, she was excited to see them,” Watts said. “… And some of the children going down the hallway to second grade would see Mrs. Woody and give her a hug.”
Graham also said Woody was known for her cooking. One year, she used a lesson of teaching the alphabet by cooking something for each letter, giving treats out to her students and fellow teachers. She said Woody also surprised everyone with a five-course meal for a group for her daughter’s senior prom.
Woody was a member of Rosemont Baptist Church, where she was part of the Awana program teaching children Bible passages. She greeted and checked in all the children as they came in on Wednesday nights.
“She was just always there and smiling, and always picked on me for being late,” Graham said with a chuckle.
Rosemont Baptist children’s pastor Phillip McClung said Woody was a record keeper for Awana, keeping track of what Bible verses each child had memorized.
“It’s hard to describe Michelle, she is such a crucial part of the Awana ministry here on Wednesday nights,” McClung said. “… She was such a joy to work with and just always had something kind to say, and was so encouraging to everyone. She will be missed.”
Kesha Edwards, owner of Whimzey in downtown LaGrange, said she got to know Woody as a frequent customer, then as a friend. After Woody’s fall, Edwards started the Facebook page “Prayers for Woody” as a way for people to share their thoughts and keep them informed of her condition.
“She was very softspoken, and probably the happiest person I’ve ever met in my life,” Edwards said. “She had a good, positive attitude all the time about everything.”
Edwards said when the Facebook page began, no one realized how severe Woody’s injuries were. It was on the page that daughter Nicole Woody shared Saturday that her family had been told her mother was only being kept alive by machines, and they were faced with the choice of when to cut them off.
“It’s real surreal, since I just talked to her Wednesday night, before this happened,” Edwards said. “It just doesn’t even seem real, but I don’t want my friend in pain, either. As much as I miss her, I know she’s in a great place.”
Watts was amazed that despite the high demands of being a teacher, Woody showed not only a deep passion for her job, but also toward her family. Graham said Woody never missed an event for her daughter.
“She loved her family, loved her family – lived for her family, and everybody that knew Michelle knew that,” Graham said. “She raised an amazing daughter.”
Graham said Nicole Woody is currently attending University of West Georgia with plans to become a teacher, inspired by her mother. Edwards said Michelle Woody and her husband, Tim Woody, were “very much in love,” and Graham said Tim Woody would help his wife with school projects, like one year helping find fellow Army veterans to come to Unity and using his Military items to decorate for a pep rally theme of declaring war on the CRCT.
“She was the type of person that if you needed something, and if you had mentioned it, you would have it the next day,” Graham said.
Graham said that thoughtfulness extended beyond just friends. She said many people shared similar stories with her Monday night. Woody had a “gift of just remembering key things, even if it was just something little you said you wanted six months ago, she remembered it when it was your birthday, or Christmas,” Graham said.
Edwards said there are countless friends of Woody’s who would give similar accounts of her thoughtfulness.
“She just was a very giving person, and kind to everybody, not just to me, to people at school, the children she taught, her church friends,” Edwards said. “She’d give the shirt off her back to everybody. She brought cookie cake to the store on my birthday; we had this really good relationship.”
Graham said her daughter one year had decided she wouldn’t go trick-or-treating for Halloween, but changed her mind at the last minute. She didn’t have a costume, and Graham posted on Facebook, asking if anyone had a costume to loan her.
“Thirty minutes later (Woody) was at my door and she had two beautiful costumes that were Nicole’s,” Graham said with tears in her eyes. “… She said, ‘Look here, I brought you these two costumes and don’t you worry about returning them to me.’ And that’s just what she did.”