The children at Rock Creek Valley Elementary School know her simply as Charlie.

She is the warm, affectionate woman who carefully ushered them across Russett Road in Rockville each day on their way to school.

For many, Charlie, in her brown and beige Montgomery County crossing guard uniform, has been a fixture in their lives since they started school.

The blond, matronly Charlie has soft features and an ever-present smile. The children agree she is a friend. She is the one who restacks a dropped armload of books or reties shoe laces for the little ones who are less than proficient in such skills.

She listens to their long, rambling tales -- the kind children will share only with a special friend -- and wipes so many noises that tissues have become a tool of her trade.

Recently, Clydie Mary (Charlie) Heatherly retired after 20 years as a school crossing guard. She will trade her post on Russett Road for a spot on a fishing pier in Melbourne, Fla. where she and her husband, John, plan to move.

Teachers, students and parents came to wish her well at a surprise assembly in her honor held at the school.

The children created cards, poems and songs for her, and collected money to buy her a heart-shaped golden whistle. Maryland State Del. Luiz Simmons presented Charlie a citation for excellent service.

She bear-hugged each child who greeted her. Even sixth-grade boys, who shudder at being kissed in public, melted in her arms.

How did she garner so much affection and respect, she was asked. "I just love kids," she replied.

Charlie began as a crossing guard at the corner of Aspen Hill Road and Arctic Avenue. There, she says proudly, "I kept 12 lanes of traffic moving and guided children to three different schools."

She arrived at Rock Creek Valley School eight years ago.

Charlie, (so nicknamed by a young boy who had difficulty pronouncing Clydie) took up her post three times a day. She can rattle off the first names of nearly all the 220 children she guided across the street this school year.

Susan S. Cafidi, 11, says Charlie is so popular with the kids because "she treats us like people, not like things that have to get across the street."

At the assembly, Charlie, dressed in a long black skirt -- she wanted the children to see her out of uniform, someone said -- gazed at the audience of smiling children who chanted, "We love Charlie."

"I'm going to miss these kids like you'd miss a front tooth," she said, fighting back tears. "No one ever had a better job than mine."