Mildred Cooke was the sort of teacher who never had to raise her voice. The look in her sharp hazel eyes was enough to keep her students in check.
"She was just a little bit intimidating," says her former daughter-in-law, Patricia Johnson.
"You didn't push her because you didn't know what she was going to do."
That steady demeanor guided Cooke through a 30-year career as a high school science teacher.
During her years at Apex High, she led thousands of students through chemistry, biology and physics.
She drilled them on the periodic table, oversaw their frog dissections and kept them from setting the school on fire with their chemistry experiments.
Along the way, she won the respect of her students as well as her peers, bringing the first Wake County Teacher of the Year Award to Apex High School in 1974.
Cooke died this month after a long battle with Alzheimer's disease. She was 87.
Diane Ragland, who graduated from Apex High in the 1960s, said Cooke strove to make sure every student understood the material. That might have meant staying after class to offer extra help or standing on top of her desk and dropping objects of different weights to demonstrate gravity.
Apex was a smaller town when Cooke taught at the high school. In her day, the graduating classes usually numbered about 60, and the faculty was much smaller as well. Along with teaching science courses, Cooke coached girls' basketball, taught driver education and advised the chess club, Future Teachers of America, the Beta club and the National Honor Society.
She saw every role as a chance to teach. In her application for Teacher of the Year, Cooke wrote, "I feel that my duty is to try to instill the desire and thirst for knowledge in the hearts of students."
Her grandson Patrick Cooke says that even today he can walk down the street in Apex and meet his grandmother's former students. They will tell you that she had no teacher's pets.
"One reason everybody respected her was because she didn't have favorites," Ragland says. "She treated us all the same."
Not exactly Aunt Bee
Away from school, Cooke presented a somewhat milder persona. Patrick says "Grandmilly" -- as family called her -- reminded him of "The Andy Griffith Show's" Aunt Bee, with a couple of exceptions.
Fishing was her passion, and her pickles, unlike Aunt Bee's, never tasted like kerosene.
"Her pickles were great," says Patricia Johnson.
Roy Cooke says his wife's favorite way to pass the time was along the banks of a lake or river.
"She could throw a fly rod as good as 90 percent of men," he says.
She baited her own hooks and cleaned her own fish. And she wasn't afraid of snakes or mice, he says.
The Cookes met shortly after Roy returned from military service in Africa in World War II. He and a pal were having some Cokes at the soda counter in downtown Apex when two women walked in. One of them had long, dark hair.
Roy looked at the soda jerk and said, "I'm going to date that girl tonight."
The guys found out the women lived at what was called the teacherage, the home for single teachers. His pal's mother called the house mother at the teacherage to arrange a double date.
After they had been out for a few hours, his pal got tired and started talking about how early he had to get up in the morning.
"I could have stayed out all night," Cooke recalls.
His pal never had a second date with the other teacher. Roy and Mildred were married for 62 years.
Grandson Patrick says Grandmilly had a way of making you want to please her.
Growing up, Patrick performed with competitive dance troupes, and his grandmother often came to watch.
"Every time I saw her I knew that things were going to be OK," he said at her memorial service.
"Whether it was her showing up right before I had my wisdom teeth removed or seeing her face in the crowd at the State Fair clogging competition, seeing my Grandmilly made me give that extra effort because I wanted to make her proud."