For those who knew Brenda Eaton, it was her passion for teaching biology that they admired most about her.
“She was like a dancer in the classroom,” said John Williams, former assistant principal and principal at Garner High School from 1989 to 2000. “Just gleeful and joyful. Always inspired the kids.”
“She engaged the students in ways I would not have thought of,” Joyce Eason, a fellow biology teacher, said. “She was a genius at what she did. She had a gift.”
The popular, retired biology teacher died last week.
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She was 66.
A native of Wake County, Eaton and her siblings grew up right outside of Garner.
Faye Trotter, her sister, said she always knew Eaton wanted to be a teacher, even as children.
“She was very, very bright when it came to biology, sciences and chemistry,” Trotter said.
Eaton was inspired by her third-grade teacher at Swift Creek Elementary School to become one herself. She attended N.C. State where she received her undergraduate and graduate degrees.
Eaton taught at Garner High School for 27 years. She was hired in 1986 before retiring in 2005. She came back in 2006 to work as a part-time retiree until 2013. Prior to teaching at Garner High, she also taught at Apex High School and Fuquay-Varina High School.
“If students did not have school supplies, she purchased school supplies for them,” Jennifer Eaton Kortick, one of her two daughters and former Garner High School student, said. “Her students always had the highest end of year test scores. And when she was being evaluated she always received superior scores. If people needed help before or after school she was always willing to help them.”
‘Liked to joke’
Joyce Eason said she met Eaton through a Wake County science teachers group. The two women taught the same subject. Eason was at Garner High and Eaton was at Apex High School at the time. One day they ran into each other while shopping. Eaton had just had a baby and was on maternity leave. She had been considering being a stay-at-home mom, Eason said.
Eason told her that Garner had a job opening for a science teacher. Eaton said she might be interested.
So Eason called Garner Senior High’s principal at the time, Shirley Page, and told her she had a teacher in mind who would probably be interested in taking the position. Page eventually hired Eaton.
Eason and Eaton ended up working together for more than 20 years. Eason said Eaton was a caring person, and when she was not at school, she loved working in the church. She loved Christmas and was known for going over the top with her Christmas decorations, Eason said.
“She was wide open, totally uninhibited, the most confident woman I have ever known and she was also the funniest,” Eason said. “She was very, very smart and very funny.”
And she had the best stories to tell, she said.
Eddie Gray, Garner Magnet High School’s basketball coach, agreed.
“She was a lot like me,” he said. “She liked the joke a lot. Very lighthearted, didn’t take herself too seriously, and just had a great rapport with all the students in the classroom.”
Gray said he has heard the stories of former students who have talked about the impact Eaton had on their lives.
“She was one of those people that made Garner a special place to live and work all those many years,” Gray said. “One of those trench workers. She showed up every day and taught class.”
Students Against Violence Everywhere
For years, she was the adviser for Students Against Drunk Driving (SADD).
Then she helped start a SAVE program at Garner High. SAVE stands for Students Against Violence Everywhere and is a student-driven organization. Students learn about alternatives to violence and practice what they learn through school and community service projects.
Kortick, her daughter, said she was inspired to start a SAVE club after one of her friend’s grandparents were killed. Eaton helped found the club too.
“They were so inspired by how students in the school could be involved in preventing violence,” Williams, the former principal, said.
Twice a year, the club puts on mock crashes to show what both teens and their parents should know about driving safety during prom and graduation season. It includes the prevalence of drinking and driving, social stigmas about the issues, and distractions like cellphones and friends when behind the wheel.
The club has received state and national recognition.
“She was a jewel,” Eason said.