Caroline D. Heller, 28, Garrison Forest teacher

January 12, 2000|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Caroline Dawson Heller, a former Garrison Forest School educator and coach, died Sunday of melanoma at Greater Baltimore Medical Center. She was 28 and lived in Finksburg.

In spite of being diagnosed with melanoma in the late 1980s, Mrs. Heller pursued a vigorous lifestyle, teaching, coaching and exploring the outdoors.

"She has endured her illness the last three years with a great deal of grace and dignity," said Ann C. Gray, who retired this year after a 24-year career as head of the Garrison Forest preschool.

"Her noble and gentle spirit prevailed and touched all those who knew her," said Mrs. Gray, who hired her in 1993 at the Owings Mills private girls' school.

"She had an extraordinary and natural gift working with children, whom she treated with dignity, kindness, warmth and love. All of these qualities are so rare for a person so young, and I knew she'd be a great teacher," she said.

A quiet, gentle, intelligent person who was thrilled to teach, she was "a natural teacher," Mrs. Gray said.

Mrs. Heller, who was a middle school field hockey and lacrosse coach and an upper school dormitory counselor, took a disability leave at the end of the 1998 academic year because of her illness.

Thin and athletic, the former Caroline Dawson was born in Lexington, Va., and spent her early years in Baltimore, where she attended Roland Park Country School.

She moved to Lawrenceville, N.J., where her father, James J. Dawson, who lives in Princeton, N.J., taught history and coached lacrosse at the Lawrenceville School.

She graduated in 1989 from Stuart Country Day School in Princeton, where she received the school's highest honor, the Margherita Condell Award, for service to others.

She earned a bachelor's degree in history in 1993 from Washington & Lee University. In 1994, while working during the summer in the pantry at Roosevelt Lodge in Yellowstone National Park, she met her future husband, Christopher A. Heller, who is now a data processor for T. Rowe Price.

"I was attracted to her because she looked great in those awful uniforms we had to wear, had a big smile, and there was a certain flippancy about her," Mr. Heller said yesterday.

After dating for several years, the couple wed on July 4, 1998.

At her Carroll County home, Mrs. Heller enjoyed working in her herb garden, growing flowers and collecting stuffed animals.

She also was a volunteer with the Literacy Council of Carroll County. Twice a week until October, Mrs. Heller tutored a student who had muscular dystrophy.

"She always said the best thing about teaching was seeing the smiles on the students' faces," said Mr. Heller.

Through Greater Baltimore Medical Center, Mrs. Heller became an experimental cancer patient at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, where she was touched by the young cancer patients.

"Because she had spent a lot of time there, and the sick children tugged at her heart, she left her collection of stuffed animals to the NIH nursery to help brighten their day," said her father.

"She was forever strong and positive through what was clearly a very serious illness," said the Rev. William Krulak, rector of St. David's Episcopal Church, where she was a communicant.

"She was a wonderful witness to her faith. She stared into the abyss and chose life over death," said Krulak yesterday.

Services will be held at 1 p.m. today at St. David's, 4700 Roland Ave.

In addition to her husband and father, Mrs. Heller is survived by her mother, Mary Louise Dawson of Baltimore; a brother, Jared C. Dawson of Chapel Hill, N.C.; a sister, Anne Stuart Dawson of Philadelphia; and her paternal grandmother, Betty C. Dawson of Pasadena.

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