Leigh Eaton’s ability to make every child she taught or came in contact with feel loved, valued and appreciated is what made her such an admired and immensely popular teacher among colleagues and students.
The 60-year-old’s sudden death after collapsing while on playground duty at St Joseph’s Riverwood four weeks ago has left the school community in shock.
While paramedics were quickly on the scene the mother-of-three couldn’t be revived.
Mrs Eaton was this year celebrating 40 years as a teacher, almost half of those at St Joseph’s.
Long-time friend and fellow teacher at the school, Sue Neill, said “heart, humility and humour were the very essence of the inspiring teacher”.
She said Leigh was all about teaching, she loved her job and every student in her care.
“Leigh sought to inspire all her students to be the best they could be and she knew all their little stories,” she said.
“When asked about how she balanced teaching and the ever-increasing teacher workload she would always say ‘I’m here for the kids.’ ‘I do it for them’.
“She cleverly used singing and humour as behaviour management strategies. She was known to often break into song to draw students together, to refocus a rowdy group or diffuse tension.
“Leigh ran the school choir for years. She had a ‘come one come all’ approach and no one was ever told they couldn’t join.
“Book Week and all the ensuing dress up fun was also a favourite time for Leigh. Students and teachers alike waited with excited anticipation to see which character Leigh would portray and she never disappointed.”
A St George girl born and bred, who always looked like she’d walked off a catwalk in Paris, Leigh took up her first teacher placement at Koriki near Evans Head before moving back to the city to teach at Erskineville, Waterloo and then finally Riverwood.
Husband Tim said seeing her in the classroom made him fall instantly in love with her. He said she “loved to love” and didn’t disappoint throughout their 30 year marriage.
“She was a born teacher, when I saw her with the kids I knew immediately I loved her,” he said.
“She always said there were no bad kids, the way she had with them was just beautiful.
“There was so much to Leigh, she loved her family, music, having a good time, singing, dancing and of course the kids. She also knew how to make, not just her students, but everybody feel good about themselves. Clearly that was one of Leigh’s greatest gifts … that by her giving, her loving, she made the person she was with feel good about themselves.
“Recently Leigh and I estimated there were perhaps 1000-plus kids she’d had in her direct classroom care … plus all the other young souls she touched in every school lucky enough to have known her. She loved to love them.
“She also loved to laugh and that she passed away days from the school holidays (which she loved as it gave her the opportunity to have a good sleep in and a few extra naps to re-boot and recharge for the next term) would have made her smile.
“Words cannot describe how much she will be missed.”
Leigh leaves behind husband Tim and three adult children Elliot, Lucy and Frankie.