Pr. William guidance counselor, 81, is lesson in dedication

At 81-years old, Lillian Orlich has spent almost 60 years working as an educator in Prince William county. And she's not done teaching yet.
By Michael Alison Chandler
Thursday, November 12, 2009

Thirty years of service in Virginia schools and at least 50 years old: That's the formula to be able to retire with full benefits from Prince William County public schools.

But many teachers and counselors say their eyes start wandering to the clock much sooner, perhaps during the umpteenth discussion of "Macbeth" or midway through the 5,000th letter of recommendation.

Not for Lillian Orlich, school counselor for the ages.

At 81 and with more than 56 years of service at Osbourn Park High School, the veteran is going for twice the average career for an educator. Half a dozen principals have come and gone, and scores of her former students devote their days to golf or grandchildren.

Yet she is still counseling teenagers and sharpening her professional skills.

"I'm not going to retire," said Orlich, with cropped silver hair and wearing a bright-purple quilted jacket. "I love coming to school. It keeps you young."

Orlich is the longest-serving employee in Prince William schools and, quite possibly, the Washington region. She has been at Osbourn Park long enough to remember the previous building and the one before that.

She can recall when the school had 200 students, not 2,700, as it does today, and when Friday night football games were followed by sundaes at the Birmingham Milk Bar.

The native New Yorker also remembers when Manassas was a "teeny-weeny" town with no stoplight and had "13 churches for 1,300 people." That was 1950, when black children went to a regional high school across town. It was the year Orlich boarded a train in Manhattan and headed to Virginia farm country after graduating from New York University.

"I struck out on my own," she said. She recalls the gray jumper with embroidered flowers she wore on her first day at Osbourn Park and the moment the principal introduced her as the "gal from Manhattan" to students not much younger than she.

Now, her slightly stooped frame and formal demeanor stand out in a hallway full of screaming teenagers in bluejeans and hooded sweat shirts.

In the era of texting and social networking, she does not have a cellphone and has never logged on to Facebook. Although she bought her first pair of slacks in 1971, she said she does not feel comfortable wearing pants to work.

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2009 The Washington Post Company