'She was the heart of our school'
Linda Slobodian, Calgary Herald
Published: Thursday, October 19, 2006
Grief swept through the halls of St. Mary's Senior High over the news Wednesday that "the heart" of the school had been killed in a tragic traffic accident.
Audrey Gunther -- a choir teacher who once led 20 of her students onto the stage of New York's Carnegie Hall to perform -- died after being struck by a Smart car in southeast Calgary late Tuesday.
"It was extremely difficult to tell the students and the staff. It's a rough day," said an emotional Chris Herard, a music teacher at St. Mary's and a colleague for six years.
"She was the heart of our school. You wouldn't find a more kind person," he said.
Gunther, who had three children with her husband, Garth Gunther, taught thousands of students over the years, he said.
"And thousands of students loved her. I can't express how tragic it is for our school."
The accident occurred as Gunther, in her early 50s, and an unidentified woman were crossing Bow Bottom Trail near 137th Avenue S.E.
They were in the crosswalk when they were hit by a northbound car.
The impact shattered the windshield and carried Gunther 10 metres.
The investigation is still underway and charges are pending against the driver, said Acting Sgt. Mark Enright of the traffic section.
The crosswalk is in a posted 60 km/h speed zone. Enright said it has "not particularly" been one of concern.
"Not more than any other in the area," said Enright, who noted it is in an area well lit with street lights and lights from surrounding businesses.
Meanwhile, waves of shock spread throughout the school community.
"I worked with Audrey on a number of projects. She was a very dedicated teacher and mother," said Kevin Wilms, band leader at Ernest Manning High School.
Gunther taught Brenda Ell's eldest daughter, Lindsay, now 23.
"We've met some amazing teachers over the years. Audrey stands out," said Ell.
"It was her dedication. She had a quiet persuasion that was able to get loads out of these teenagers."
Gunther was also the one responsible for 20 students having an experience of a lifetime in 2001 on the Carnegie Hall stage graced by the world's greatest performers.
"She was the one that got the invitation to bring her choir there," said Ell.
She was also the one who stood up to the Calgary Catholic School District, which almost cancelled the trip because the invitation had come too late in the school year for approval.
"That experience brought all of us so very close together," said Ell.
Carnegie Hall was but one of countless examples of how the dedicated Gunther championed for her students.
"She had such a generous spirit," Ell said.
Meanwhile, area residents expressed mixed views on the safety of the crosswalk.
"I cross every day. Twice. Morning and evening," said Erin Hitchcock, 18.
Like so many others, Hitchcock crosses and makes her way up a long wooden staircase that leads into Parkland.
She's had only one close call, when an elderly motorist nearly hit her.
"I'm not surprised this happened. There needs to be lights here."
Alex Pelletier drives through the intersection every day.
"Everybody is familiar with the intersection. The only thing is they don't sand the turn in winter. Drivers slide and do a 360," she said.