Gail Christmas, left, and Martina Mattison, now head of guidance at BFUHS, at a high school network summer conference for professional development in
Gail Christmas, left, and Martina Mattison, now head of guidance at BFUHS, at a high school network summer conference for professional development in 2007. (Submitted Photo)

BRATTLEBORO -- The community said good-bye to a dedicated educator over the weekend, less than a year after she retired from teaching at Bellows Falls Union High School.

Gail G. Christmas, 62, died last week at Brattleboro Memorial Hospital following a brief battle with pancreatic cancer. Christmas was born in Brattleboro in 1951 and went through the public school system before earning a bachelor's degree in education from Castleton State College in 1973 and starting her career.

She previously taught at Kurn Hattin School, Oak Grove School, Academy School and Putney School before obtaining her job at BFUHS.

Principal Chris Hodsden, in his 18th year at BFUHS, said Christmas was a fantastic reading support teacher who went above and beyond for her students.

"Really, her assignment would be to support students with their classroom work outside of the classroom," he said. "And in that capacity, there were a number of students ... with varying amounts of skills and it didn't matter who she was working with, she approached it with the same level of professionalism and high quality of teaching that left kids always feeling comfortable working with her and that gave her the potential to take a reluctant learner and make that kid a successful student."

Hodsden said he saw Christmas at a school potluck around the holidays and has difficulty believing she has already died. He said it saddens him to know she retired with many plans in mind and he said she will be missed by all who knew her.

"She would probably be embarrassed to hear me say this about her, but she was the center of many people's lives. She was the type of person that was always the supporter of someone," he recalled. "And you could see that in her work with her students, you could see that in her work in her community. She was always there for somebody else.

"I knew I would miss working with her on a daily basis, and now that she is gone, that sense of loss amplified," he continued.

Her widower, Bill Christmas, said his late wife won a University of Vermont Teacher of the Year Award for the Windham Northeast Supervisory Union in 2011.

"She was humbled and she was grateful and everything, but her most focus was her (students)," he told the Reformer. "She wasn't looking for any public recognition."

Bill Christmas said his wife of 40 years followed in her mother's footsteps when she became a teacher.

Chris Kibbe, the school superintendent for the Windham Northeast Supervisory Union, told the Reformer Christmas' death is a loss for the local educational community, even though she had retired in June.

"She was a really well-regarded teacher and had a reputation for taking care of students in a very personalized way," he said. "Everybody knew her."

The funeral was scheduled for 11 a.m. at St. Michael's Church on Saturday. A reception was set to be held at the Elks Home on Putney Road afterward.

According to her obituary, which was published in the Reformer on March 12, Christmas also leaves behind a son, Seth Christmas of Brattleboro; two daughters, Courtney Millerick (and her husband, Chris) of Vernon; and Whitney Christmas of Boston; her mother; two grandchildren; a sister; and several nieces, nephews and cousins.

Christmas was a devout Catholic and, in lieu of flowers, memorial contributions can be made to St. Michael's School, 48 Walnut St., Brattleboro, VT 05301, Attn: Elaine Beam, Principal; or to St. Michael's Catholic Church, 47 Walnut St., Brattleboro, VT 05301.

Domenic Poli can be reached at dpoli@reformer.com; or 802-254-2311, ext. 277. You can follow Domenic on Twitter @dpoli_reformer.