Photo courtesy of Tony Left.
Marilyn Left poses while on vacation. The Lefts liked to travel with family and took all five of their grandchildren on extended trips.
Marilyn Left liked to play classical music over the intercoms in the hallways at Greystone Elementary School, but she wasn’t afraid to let some rock ’n’ roll in every now and then, too.
Left, the first principal at Greystone, once rode a motorcycle onto the school stage during a talent show with “Born To Be Wild” blaring.
She knew how to have a good time, but her focus was always on providing the best possible education for the children at Greystone, said Lana Murphy, a third-grade teacher who has been at the school since it opened in 1994.
Left died Dec. 22, 10½ years after retiring from her job at Greystone in 2005. She was 75. Former colleagues described her as an innovative and caring leader who was well respected.
“She was a visionary,” said Sonia Carrington, a retired principal from Rocky Ridge Elementary School who was one of the original teachers at Greystone under Left. “She thought outside of the box. She wanted Greystone to be on the cutting edge.”
Left was always encouraging teachers to try new strategies, Carrington said. “It was all about the kids and what helped them learn.”
For example, Left knew there were wetlands near Greystone Elementary and prompted teachers to make use of the wetlands in their lesson plans and curriculum, from science to art and music, Carrington said.
Left also was very encouraging to teachers and supportive of fellow principals, winning their admiration, Carrington said. “We were all very, very close,” she said. “We respected her — appreciated her knowledge and ideas … She became not only our principal, but she was a friend to all of us.
“She was a very unique lady,” Carrington said. “I’m just very sad she’s gone.”
‘A different air about it’
Playing classical music over the intercoms in the hallways was Left’s way of giving Greystone “a different air about it,” Murphy said.
Left also planned multi-age classrooms and special “enrichment Fridays” when children could choose special classes to attend, from chess to gardening, Murphy said.
“She was just really creative with planning and scheduling and allowing us to do a lot of things that typical Alabama classrooms in the elementary world didn’t do,” Murphy said.
Left spent hours and hours at the school late at night writing grant applications to help the school get extra money for special initiatives and had most of the faculty seeking grant money, too, Murphy said.
Left also was very personable, she said. One time, when one of the teachers’ daughters was sick, Left held the girl in her arms for three hours while the girl slept because the school could not get a substitute for her mother. Another time, Left took over Murphy’s class because one of Murphy’s children hit his head and had to go get stitches.
“She understood about you being a mother and trying to have a full-time position,” Murphy said.
Avid reader and traveler
Left began her career teaching in Point Pleasant and Lakewood, New Jersey, before her husband, Tony, was transferred to Birmingham by his employer in 1969. She then established the kindergarten at Saint Francis Xavier School, where she taught for 10 years, her husband said. She worked one year in a school for children in an abuse shelter and then taught fourth-graders for four years at Pinson Elementary School.
Along the way, Left obtained three master’s degrees from the University of Alabama at Birmingham — in early childhood education, early development and education administration, he said.
She worked two years as an assistant principal at Cahaba Heights Elementary School and one year as an assistant principal at Leeds Elementary. Once she obtained her doctorate in educational leadership, she received her first principal job at Greystone.
Outside of work, Left enjoyed knitting, cross-stitching, and training and showing Samoyed dogs (white Siberian sled dogs). She also was an avid reader and loved to travel.
She and her husband traveled to Canada several times, went on four trips to Europe and expeditions to Australia, New Zealand and Fiji. They also traveled across the United States twice, staying at various state parks.
The Lefts liked to travel with family and have taken all five of their grandchildren on extended trips – two to Eastern Europe, one to the Canadian Rockies and two on an Alaskan cruise, Tony Left said.
Marilyn Left was diagnosed with a blood disorder called myelodysplasia three to four years ago and had to have a blood transfusion every two weeks, her husband said. She eventually died of pneumonia and kidney failure – on her fourth daughter’s 46th birthday, he said.
She and her husband were married for 53 years and 124 days, he said.