Jeanne McGuire, second-generation Baltimore County elementary school teacher, dies

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Jeanne McGuire — a Baltimore County elementary school teacher and administrator who ran, sang and danced in her free time — died March 12 of radiation-induced osteosarcoma developed during breast cancer treatment. She was 80.

Ms. McGuire was born in Terra Haute, Indiana, and moved to Baltimore in 1952. She lived in Parkville and Hillendale and attended Towson Catholic High School. She graduated from Notre Dame College of Maryland, now known as Notre Dame of Maryland University, in 1964 and later earned a master’s of education from what is now Towson University.

Jeanne McGuire always chose to teach third grade.

Her father, Ambrose Whitney, was a chemist at W.R. Grace and Company, and her mother, Gretchen Whitney, was a fourth grade teacher and librarian in Baltimore County schools. Ms. McGuire was reluctant to follow in the family footsteps when she joined her mother at Hillendale Elementary in 1964.

“She didn’t want to be a teacher because she saw how hard her mother worked,” Ms. McGuire’s daughter, Kathleen J. Conneally, said. “And then she got her degree and just thought she would try it.”


Ms. McGuire worked in Baltimore County schools for nearly 40 years, taking a brief break to raise her own children. She taught at Hillendale as well as Middleborough and Middlesex Elementary schools in addition to being an assistant principal at Red House Elementary and Timber Grove Elementary.

Ms. McGuire always chose to teach third grade and was especially fond of trying different approaches to reading.

“I think she was really drawn to the idea of unlocking the written page for kids. She’s very good with phonics, and back in those days that was the dominant approach to teaching reading, but some kids don’t learn to read through phonics, so she would explore other ways,” her wife, Sandra “Sandy” Thomas, a retired high school English teacher, said.

“In the sense that all kids don’t all learn the same way, she really was interested in finding other approaches,” Ms. Thomas said.

Ms. McGuire ran a quiet classroom. While other teachers might yell to gather students’ attention, she would whisper and fit tennis balls for the bottom legs of desks and chairs to cut out the squeaking.

Ms. McGuire switched into administration to oversee Individualized Education Plan meetings, in which parents of special education students and school officials agree to services.

“She would always find ways to include everybody. She had an eye for people left out or having problems. If one teacher was saying, ‘So and so has a problem in my class,’ she would always go, ‘Well, he’s not a problem in my class,’” Ms. Thomas said.

Ms. McGuire, who lived in Harford County, retired from administration in 2005, but stayed active around the school as a part-time secretary through 2008.


Ms. McGuire and longtime partner Sandy Thomas married in 2015. They first met during the 1970s in the Harford County neighborhood of Cedar Wood, where Ms. McGuire encouraged Ms. Thomas to finish her education.

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“We got to know each other and became friends and in love. She said, ‘You’re smart enough, you should go to college.’ I said, ‘It’s a little late for that. I have two children.’ She said, ‘I can watch the boys, you can take classes,’” Ms. Thomas said.

Ms. Thomas graduated from Towson in 1978 and became a high school English teacher.

“We were married as soon as the law changed. ... My older son drove us to the City Hall in Baltimore City,” Ms. Thomas said.

Ms. McGuire was a runner, singer and theatergoer. She joined the Harford County “Just Have Fun Singers,” a running club, and acted in community college musicals. She loved Barbra Streisand and frequented the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, Baltimore Center Stage and The Morris A. Mechanic Theatre, which was demolished in 2014. For her 80th birthday in August, she went to an Orioles game.

“Her singing was my first memories. She loved to sing,” Ms. Conneally said. “She was definitely a Baltimore girl.”


In addition to her wife and daughter, Ms. McGuire is survived by three sons, Thomas J. McGuire, Kevin L. Thomas and Christopher D. Thomas; her brother, Robert P. Whitney; and 10 grandchildren.