Frances Mitchell Painter, a former sixth-grade teacher at Bel-Aire Elementary School and West Middle School in Tullahoma, passed away on Saturday, June 27. She was 89.
Her students knew her as Ms. Mitchell and her friends knew her as “Punkin,” but she was also known as an outstanding teacher.
Painter won countless awards throughout her career, including Tullahoma City Schools Teacher of the Year in 1974.
Dozens of teachers, parents and students wrote letters on her behalf listing reasons why she deserved the award.
“There is a slide Frances uses to close her illustrated lectures of her visits to Europe,” wrote Gene Boswell Woodworth, a fellow teacher at the time.
“It is a beautiful picture of a sunrise in Tullahoma. She uses it to illustrate the lightly valued beauty that we always have with us.
“I think Punkin’s life, here among us, has been somewhat like that sunrise. So constant and dependable we take it for granted, and yet, when we stop and look at it – so very beautiful.”
Jim Waters was principal of Bel-Aire Elementary during Painter’s time there. He was also the best man at her wedding to the late Auburn Painter, the city’s longtime public works superintendent.
“Many, many, many people owe her a lot for their success,” said Waters. “She was one of the few teachers I’ve ever known who kept up with her students after they left her classroom.
“She was 100 percent for the school and for the students. She was just a super teacher who gave her life to education.”
Randy Wilson worked with Painter during the summer of 1968 at the summer educational program for children of migrant farm workers.
He and Painter picked the children up every morning and dropped them back off after the program each day.
“She was dedicated to doing the best she could for every child,” said Wilson. “She was a great lady.”
Bruce Mulkey, a former student of Painter’s, published an article about her in the Citizen-Times of Asheville, North Carolina, in 2000.
“She encouraged our natural curiosity, punished us justly for our juvenile pranks, rooted for us on the ball field, and treated us with respect. Perhaps this was the greatest thing: she saw something in me, perhaps in each of us, that was precious to her, and she endeavored to draw that out so that we could see it, so that others could see it as well,” wrote Mulkey. “May each child have at least one Ms. Mitchell.”
Painter retired from teaching in June 1985 but continued to leave an impact on the Tullahoma community through her work with First United Methodist Church of Tullahoma.
A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. on Sunday, July 5, at First United Methodist Church with family visitation beginning at hour prior. The church is located at 208 W Lauderdale St.