For nearly 20 years, Raymond Mathias presided over Winfield Elementary School with a gentle, hands-on style of leadership. He was a constant presence at the school -- in the classrooms, at cafeteria tables and on the playground.
Yesterday, the close-knit Winfield community of students, faculty and parents arrived at a school without Raymond Mathias. The 52-year-old longtime educator was killed Monday when a tractor-trailer hit his car about a half-mile from the school.
"Ray Mathias was Winfield," said Anne Marie Mason, mother of a third-grade student at the school. "He brought strength and encouragement to this school."
In a steady rain yesterday morning, children filed into Winfield Elementary, where a school administrator stood at the door to keep reporters away from students and teachers.
Several school buses arrived half-empty. But the parking lots were full as many parents walked with their children into the one-story brick building and lingered in the classrooms.
"Mr. Mathias was such a positive force in the school," said Donna McGraw, mother of a first-grade student. "He was always there at every event, even the PTA yard sale."
McGraw walked her child into the school yesterday morning.
"I didn't want her to hear it in the hall. I was worried what would happen when the children didn't hear him leading the pledge like he did every morning," she said.
Instead, the day began at Winfield as teachers read a statement to students, informing them of Mathias' death.
"We are sad to announce the death of Mr. Mathias, who we all care about," teachers told their students. "All of us feel sadness over his loss. These feelings are normal and it is important to talk about them."
A 12-member crisis intervention team of guidance counselors, pupil personnel workers and school psychologists was at the school yesterday morning to help the Winfield community get through the day.
"The staff seemed to come into the building determined they were going to keep themselves under control," said Dorothy Mangle, director of elementary schools. "You could just see they were focused on helping the children."
As planned, the third-grade students at Winfield took the Maryland State Performance Assessment Program tests.
"I think the children were really geared up for the test," said guidance counselor Angela Nunnelly. "Some students were told, 'Do your best; that's what Ray would want.' "
"I had a lot of students who said they will miss hearing him walk down the halls with his keys, or coming in the cafeteria and talking with them at the tables, and they'll miss him at recess time," Nunnelly said.
Trooper Robert Stryjewski said skid marks at the scene of the accident indicated that Robert Emerson, the driver of the tractor-trailer, braked after the impact with Mathias' Pontiac.
Mathias, who was dead at the scene after his Pontiac Grand Am was knocked into a metal light pole, was wearing a seat belt, the trooper said.
Emerson, 44, of Bear, Del., was hauling drywall, and his trip log appeared to be in order, the trooper said, meaning that there was no evidence that fatigue might have contributed to the accident. Neither alcohol nor drugs appeared to be a factor, Stryjewski said.
At the school, staff members said the most difficult days are ahead -- the fifth-grade graduation, when Mr. Mathias always gave a pep talk to the future middle-schoolers, the annual play day and holidays.
"This is just the beginning," said Nunnelly. "But in spite of everything, there was peace that prevailed in the building. A great peace has been here all day and we were walking in it."
Mathias family members declined to comment yesterday. They have asked for memorial donations in his name to the school, 4401 Salem Bottom Road, Westminster 21157.
Services will be at 11 a.m. Saturday at Covenant of Grace Presbyterian Church in Reisterstown.
Mathias is survived by his wife, Terry; his mother, Margaret Mathias; a son, Chad Raymond Mathias; and a daughter, Heather Leigh Mathias.
Pub Date: 5/13/98