A popular Arlington elementary school teacher and her 83-year-old mother were killed Wednesday when their car was hit by a truck in Fairview, N.C.
Leola Anne Purser, 52, a preschool teacher at Barrett Elementary School, died immediately when a delivery truck ran a red light and crashed into the driver's side of the Oldsmobile she was driving, according to the North Carolina State Highway Patrol. Her mother, Vera Huntley Purser of Charlotte, died a few hours later at a hospital.
Leola Purser, 52, taught for a decade.
(Barrett Elementary School)
Leola Purser, a native of Charlotte, had taught at Barrett for a decade. At last Thursday's faculty meeting, she received a 10-year pin to mark the occasion.
She started there as a teaching assistant after having worked as a caterer. Theresa D. Bratt, the school principal, said Purser threw herself into her new career, teaching and waiting on tables while attending college to earn a degree in early childhood education.
"She worked very hard to get to where she got to," Bratt said, adding that Purser also was a sponsor for Project Y.E.S., a service club for fourth- and fifth-graders.
"She really knew each of the children as individuals and focused on what made them exceptional," Bratt said.
At the school, which is on spring break this week, secretary Nellie Vargas grappled yesterday with the fact that her longtime friend was gone. "I'm just still not accepting it," she said. "I've been crying all day."
Vargas, who used to teach computer classes alongside Purser, said the two often went out shopping, dining or salsa dancing. Purser had an infectious sense of humor and an ability to empathize, she said.
"In my personal struggle of life, she was there for me," Vargas said. "When I lost my brother at 41, she was there for me. I don't know what I'm going to do now, because I don't know who to face in dealing with this grief."
Mary Beth Pelosky, a longtime friend of Purser's, said: "She was really coming into her own. She had had a tremendous run of positive things in her life since she started teaching."
She said Purser traveled to Mexico two years ago to improve her Spanish so she could communicate better with students.
When school reopens Monday, Bratt will hold an assembly to tell teachers and students about the accident, and crisis counselors will be available.
Purser had been spending spring break in North Carolina with her mother, and they were on their way to visit relatives when the accident occurred.
She is survived by three brothers and a son, Caleb, a graduate of Yorktown High School and George Mason University.
The driver of the truck, Tory Jermaine Stripling, 27, of Concord, N.C., was not injured, authorities said. He has been charged with two counts of misdemeanor death by vehicle.