Carol Malone has been molding minds for generations at Maryvale Preparatory School.
At 67, she is retiring after 34 years teaching at the all-girls Catholic school in Towson, 30 as chairwoman of the English department.
Evidence that she will be missed was scrawled across the white dry erase board in her classroom where dozens of students wrote to their teacher during the final week of school, expressing their gratitude for her dedication to the profession.
"I just couldn't stand the idea of retiring because I just don't feel myself retreating. But I will be doing the things that enrich me," said Malone, a Relay resident.
Libby Nagle, who graduated from Maryvale in 1972, is one of her former students. Her daughter Elizabeth, her three sisters and two nieces have also been taught by Malone.
"She has had a huge impact on our family," said Nagle, Maryvale's director of alumnae relations and special events.
Nagle is one of many to describe Malone as an "icon" at the school.
Malone made the unexpected announcement that this year would be her last on May 22 at a school gathering, surprising students, teachers and administrators, according to an alumnae letter sent afterward.
During the gathering, she told members of the Class of 2014 at the school that, "I want to know where are you going after graduation? Are you going to the beach?", the letter said.
After hearing the girls respond with a collective "yes," she responded, "Well, so am I. The difference is that I am not coming back," the letter said.
Kelly Fischer, of Hunt Valley, was one of those students.
"[She] means more to me than a teacher or mentor — she is a vivacity of brilliance," Fischer said. "It's not every day that you are taught by a person who changes your outlook on all things around you, inside and out of the classroom. I've gained a fortitude of knowledge by simply having daily conversation with her in the classroom," Fischer wrote in an email.
Malone said she plans to spend her retirement at her home on the Eastern Shore, where she will read and watch the water, she said.
She also hopes to continue writing a book about a Catholic school English teacher she began 20 years ago.
Rheumatoid arthritis, a disease which causes joint inflammation of the hands and feet, had made her daily commute unpleasant and her decision to retire easier.
"Last year, I had to pass up — that's when I felt like I was not myself anymore — I passed up the opportunity to meet [American playwright and screenwriter] Tony Kushner," Malone said. "I couldn't do it because I was too tired."
As an avid reader with an appreciation for theater and film, that was a hard choice to make.
Her partner since 1969, Bob Combs, a professor of English at George Washington University, said, "Do things that make you stronger," and she knew that it was time. The couple live in Relay with their black German Shepherd mix.
Malone earned a bachelor's degree in English from what is now Notre Dame of Maryland University, a master of arts degree in English from the University of South Carolina and a master of science degree in psychology from Loyola College of Maryland.
Malone was raised in Baltimore and knew she would become an English teacher since the age of 5. She began teaching at Maryvale shortly after earning her master's degree in South Carolina.
"That never stops blowing me away. It is just so profound how much they love their children, " she said. "When I'm teaching English, I'm not just teaching English. I'm teaching someone else's child about English, and I'm very aware of that here."