Those who frequent Blue Ridge School are familiar with the warm smile that greets them each day by Secretary Audrey Rice, who begins retirement at the end of the school year.
Rice said as she completes this chapter of her life, she would like to say thank you to all the people that have made her time at Blue Ridge a wonderful experience.
“I have loved every minute that I have been involved with the students, faculty, and staff at BRS/BREC,” said Rice. “All the people I have met on this journey will always have a special place in my heart. I have been privileged to make awesome friends at all the schools that we have been able to visit. Friends from Jackson County School system will remain with me forever. There are no words to describe my emotions at this time. Sometimes happy, sometimes sad, but I know that God has given me peace about my decision to retire at this time.”
Rice began her career at BRS as a bus driver in 1990, and became a fulltime custodian in 2000. She transitioned to receptionist in 2008.
“My most favorite thins are when students come in to get a morning hug,” said Rice. “It makes my day.”
Rice said she plans on spending retirement enjoying life at her home on Heady Mountain and maybe taking a cruise or two. Rice’s colleagues at school said she will be sorely missed.
BRS Principal Teri Walawender said Rice is often the first face she sees in the morning and one of the most important people she communicates with on a daily basis.
“She has supported Blue Ridge, and me personally, for many years as Secretary, Mom, Nana, Nurse, Social Worker, Bus Driver, Booboo Fixer, Guardian and Gate Keeper, Prayer Warrior, Coffee Maker, Score Keeper Extraordinaire, and Ultimate Fan of all that is Blue Ridge,” said Walawender. “She has been an invaluable part of daily operations, and her retirement will be a huge loss for the entire community.”
Walawender added that for many students, Rice is family, a warm hug, a helping hand, a gentle push when kids need it, and an advocate for all.
“Audrey has the greatest love for our school and school community, and we look forward to her coming back to volunteer, and hug our necks,” said Walawender.
Rice began volunteering for athletic program in 2004 when she started keeping books for the volleyball team, and it “just kept going from there.”
This includes running the clock, keeping scorebooks, booster club member, ordering supplies for concessions, getting concessions started, etc. BREC Athletic Director Tim Mayse said Rice is like a mom to him and he will miss how invested she has been in students, staff members, and the school community.
“All of our students gravitate towards Ms. Audrey and enjoy talking with her,” said Mayse. “Students know how much she cares about them as a group and as individuals.”
He added that Rice volunteers her time to the athletic program because that’s how much she cares about the students and the school.
“I hope she will continue to help in that capacity,” said Mayse. “Not having to worry about finding someone to do the clock for volleyball and basketball games (middle school and high school) for the last 9 years has been a blessing. She really helps our athletic department run efficiently and makes our gameday preparation easier for coaches and administration.”
BRS 3rd-grade Teacher Josie Holden said Rice has been in her life since she was a little kid and student at BRS.
“She still to this day always makes sure I have what I need and keeps me informed on anything and everything that’s happening at the school,” said Holden. “I talk to her every single day. If she’s not calling me, I’m always calling her. She’s been amazing to me while I’ve been in my first 3 years of being a Beginning Teacher. Ms. Audrey has always encouraged me to go after my dreams and let no one or anything stop me from going after what I want in life.”
She added that Rice is always there when you need her.
“If she doesn’t know the answer you better believe she’ll find someone who does and get right back to you,” said Holden. She’s been the heart of the school for as long as I can remember. I have told her multiple times she’s not allowed to leave, and her reply was, ‘You’re tough, you’ll do just fine without me.’ Little does she know, I’m going to miss her more than words can say.”
BRS Bookkeeper Lisa Hoxit said life will not be the same at BRS without Rice and she’ll miss Rice’s beautiful voice singing while putting away the mail.
“She always takes time to listen and to lend a helping hand when and where one is needed,” said Hoxit. “Several of our little ones and bigger ones too come by for an Audrey hug before going to class in the mornings, and they also finish the day with a wave goodbye. She will be missed by all from the start of the day to the end. I pray the best for my friend Audrey as she starts her retirement.”