Mary Anne Darney is this year’s recipient of the Frances Fleming Inspirational Award given annually by School District No. 46 to an individual or group who exemplifies Fleming’s ability to inspire others in the education field.
Darney, a special education teacher for 28 years with the school district, was thrilled to be chosen for this year’s award.
“I was absolutely and totally humbled because [Fleming] was my hero. She was my neighbour for over 10 years,” Darney said. “[Fleming] was ahead of her time, she was a real barn burner, so self-effacing. She was very quiet, down-to-earth. Her attitude was always ‘let’s see what we can do about this.’ She was a great teacher. She was my son’s Sunday School teacher and he absolutely adored her. When it came time for my daughter to go to the same class she lasted one day. ‘If Mrs. Frances Fleming isn’t here, I’m not going,’ and she didn’t.”
Darney’s career began with her graduation from UBC in 1966. It was a very different climate for beginners in those days.
“You could go anywhere, school districts worked to get us. I had a special education degree; nowadays you need a master’s degree to get that. I was ready to save the world,” Darney shared.
Her first position was at Renfrew Elementary School in Vancouver teaching Grade 1. After graduating from university, Darney interned with a Grade 1 teacher for three months at three-quarter pay.
The following September she ended up with a class of 40 students including one little boy, a recent arrival from Hong Kong, whose mother came to school with him every day for several months.
“I loved it,” she remembered.
In the meantime, she and her husband Bob had fallen in love with the Sunshine Coast, so after a successful interview in the old Pen Hotel café with then inspector Hart Dirksen, Darney began her career on the Coast in 1972.
Hired as a remedial teacher, Darney worked half a day at Roberts Creek Elementary and the other half at Langdale Elementary. At that time there were no learning assistants and no programs. Children could have every challenge ranging from behaviour difficulties to dyslexia. It didn’t faze Darney.
“I loved teaching. You learn so much working with kids from kindergarten to Grade 7,” she said.
In 1985 she went to work at the old Halfmoon Bay Elementary School.
“There were 50 kids, in a tiny little one-room school with a few trailers. We took the whole school to Expo ‘86 in one bus,” she recalled.
In 1990 she went to Chatelech Secondary School as a special ed teacher. “It was magic,” she shared.
While times have changed — now there are more special ed assistants and teachers are more bogged down with “endless forms” — kids have not changed, Darney stated.
“I knew from as far as I can remember that I wanted to be a teacher. I had a very enjoyable career.”
The committee that unanimously selected Darney for the award cited her involvement with St. John’s United Church, Arrowhead Clubhouse, Sunshine Coast Community Living and the Sunshine Coast Hospice Society plus her volunteer work in West Sechelt Elementary School as evidence of her ongoing commitment to her community. She was congratulated for being an inspiration to many students, parents, colleagues and community members on the Sunshine Coast. Darney’s goal to be “1/100 of the person Fleming was” appears to have been achieved.