Personal Loss

Five years after Palo Verde High teacher Barbara Edwards died, friends recall her contributions

Aaron Thompson

It's been five years since Palo Verde High School teacher Barbara Edwards died in the attacks of September 11, but even as the date recedes, her memory doesn't, at least not in the minds of two of her closest friends.

Barbara Edwards was born in Germany in 1943 and immigrated to America 10 years later. She went on to become a foreign language teacher, concentrating mainly on French and German.

"I had been trying to convince her to come to our school," said Palo Verde foreign language chair Gail Fahy. "We soon became fast friends." Fahy was drawn to Edwards' quick wit and good-natured attitude. "She could always make me laugh when I was having a bad day. It was never a dull moment."

Edwards also formed a close friendship with math teacher Patti Habermas. "We'd share an office and within 20 minutes of talking to her, you'd be crying from laughing so much," Habermas said. Over the course of Edwards' three years at Palo Verde, the trio become the school's most closely knit group of faculty-friends.

In the summer of 2001, the trio was returning from an end-of-the-year lunch when they were involved in a car accident at the corner of Charleston Boulevard and Fort Apache Road.

Edwards and Habermas suffered broken arms, Fahy a broken shoulder. "With the car accident, we had to rely on each other to go to doctors or shopping. I had a pink cast from my fingertip to my right shoulder, and I'm left-handed, so I was trying to get [Edwards] in my car while not using my right hand. It was a comedy routine."

While the group continued to hang out, Edwards took some time off to recover from her injuries. She used that time to visit a friend on the East coast and planned to come back in early September to resume teaching and celebrate Fahy's birthday. Her flight, the earliest of the day on September 11—also Fahy's birthday—was American Airlines Flight 77, which crashed into the Pentagon.

Habermas and Fahy were devastated. Habermas, who was driving when the accident happend, felt responsible for Edward's death. "If it weren't for the car accident, she'd still be with us. I was driving the vehicle, and for the longest time I though that if I hadn't been driving, [Edwards] would still be alive. I eventually figured it out that I couldn't be held accountable."

Fahy, shocked and saddened, was left to deal with Edward's local, as well as professional, arrangements."You didn't want to believe it," Fahy said. "It was like one of those unbelievable things that can't be true."

Fahy and Habermas would, along with the rest of Palo Verde, mourn the loss of their friend while they tried to decide what to do next in a world that had, for them, at least, changed forever.

Two years after Edward's death, a memorial wall was built on the southeast side of the Palo Verde soccer field, a place Edwards frequented after class. On the wall, Edwards' name is etched in gold lettering with the phrase "We will never forget" written in both German and French. Two college scholarships were funded for language students, and another memorial was installed in the school's library.

Now, five years after her death, Edwards' contributions to her friends' lives remain with them. Fahy said that Edwards taught her how to enjoy life. "[Edwards] gave me a different perspective on life," Fahy said. "I learned from her that life is more than just about work. There are more important things, like your friends and family."

To Habermas, Edwards' death and the subsequent outpouring of grief and support from students showed her that the things she does as a teacher really do matter.

"I guess I never realized that as a teacher, I really do affect students' lives," Habermas said. "It never dawned on me. I now look at every school year as a treat and hope I'll be able to make a difference on students."

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