A North East teacher who saw the best in everyone and more often than not brought it out of them has died.
Wodonga Middle Years College principal Maree Cribbes lost her long battle with cancer on Thursday, September 14, a day after her 27 years of service to education in the Border city was recognised.
She was 49 and passed just 15 days before her 50th birthday.
Tributes flowed for Mrs Cribbes at a gathering at the school's Huon campus on Wednesday, September 13, which was streamed live to hundreds unable to attend.
The youngest daughter of Wangaratta dairy farmers Helen (deceased) and Graham Howard started her career in 1996 at Wodonga's Mitchell Secondary College.
She had applied for a physical education position at the end of 1995 and was unsuccessful, but early the following year put her hand up for a casual relief role to cover for an electronics and Indonesian teacher - two subjects she knew nothing about.
Then principal Laurie Frost knew they had a great teacher and future leader on their hands.
"I put Maree on for that position and I did say to her that you don't really have to teach too much electronics or Indonesian, just do your own thing with the kids for a while. But no, this young Maree Howard launched right into it," he said.
"She went home and studied and she taught that class. It even included kids doing TAFE level electronics as I recall.
"The very next opportunity that I could have a vacancy to put Maree into, I certainly found it."
Mrs Cribbes was integral in the transition of Wodonga's three government schools in 2005, which saw Mitchell and Wodonga West secondary schools become Huon and Felltimber campuses for years 7 to 9, while Wodonga High School changed to Wodonga Senior Secondary College for years 10 to 12 in 2006.
Executive principal Vern Hilditch said Mrs Cribbes always had the students front of mind.
"When she made decisions, it was 'what's best for this young person or for students generally'. She was very well respected by generations of young people who've passed through the schools," he said.
"She was very strong in terms of taking leadership roles. She started here as a first year teacher and then moved up the ranks to year level co-ordinator, leading teacher, assistant principal and then campus principal."
Mrs Cribbes was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 2009, but Mr Hilditch said she never let it hold her back.
"I said 'Maree, do you really want to do this?' and she would say 'what else am I going to do? It takes my mind off it'," he said.
"Maree was also very good at setting up processes for people to step up within the school and that's certainly proven to be true. She would be very keen that life continued."
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Wodonga Middle Years College assistant principal Steve Fouracre said it wasn't just the students who shone in Mrs Cribbes' presence.
"It's important to acknowledge the many staff that she mentored into leadership positions over a long period of time. The education community or the Wodonga Federation of Government Schools have been the beneficiaries of that, with many moving into assistant principal and leading teacher roles throughout our region," he said.
"Virtually all schools be it Mount Beauty, Tallangatta, Beechworth, Rutherglen, they've all had people take on leadership to some degree a direct consequence of the mentoring that Maree was able to give them.
"The support from all of the local schools has been overwhelming. The amount of people that are reaching out beyond Wodonga Middle Years College, we've really felt that and appreciated that."
Mrs Cribbes also played tennis at a high level for the majority of her life and was a dedicated committee member and volunteer of Wodonga Little Athletics Centre for many years as her children competed.
Former Wodonga Middle Years College assistant principal and long-time tennis teammate Marg Leddin described her as a great competitor.
"I loved playing with her, but I also loved playing against her because she just left nothing on the court," she said.
"She would try her hardest and I love that because I'm really competitive too, but she would always model that fabulous sportspersonship.
"She would always support the young players and we'd always like to have them in our team and make them feel welcome. Not everyone does that for whatever reason, but they're the future.
"I've been running a Tuesday night comp in Wodonga for 28 years and she only stopped playing at the end of last summer, which was Easter this year.
"Wal and her are both community-minded and put their heart and soul into everything.
"I remember with little athletics they would stay and do whatever it took to help out and keep it all ticking over. They were the nuts and bolts of sporting clubs."
Mrs Cribbes is survived by her husband Wal and three children Olive, Wilbur and Harvey.
A private service has been held to honour and celebrate Mrs Cribbes' life.
Donations to the Albury Wodonga Regional Cancer Centre have been encouraged by her family.
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