Diane Wallace, who has taught fourth grade at Norfolk Academy for 53 years, forever bettering the lives of myriad students, announced her retirement on June 10.
Known for her wit and independence, and never one who desired the spotlight, Mrs. Wallace made her announcement in an email to faculty and staff, replete with abundant jokes, touching on her many meals in the refectory, faculty meetings, and yearbook photos, the latter an anathema to her.
“Norfolk Academy has been the setting for most of the milestones of my life," she wrote. “I have been a new bride in faculty housing, a new mother, a military widow, a faculty member, a faculty parent. Once the youngest faculty member, now I'm the oldest as my yearbook pictures reveal!"
Mrs. Wallace, who began teaching in 1967, served the school under three headmasters — James B. Massey Jr., John H. Tucker Jr., and current school leader Dennis G. Manning. Her classroom was always known as 4B. “I have taught 1,040 plus 4B boys--the best people in the world," she said.
In a letter to the Norfolk Academy community, Mr. Manning described the “incalculable contribution that Mrs. Wallace made to this school community and to the world, through her dedication to instilling moral character, intellectual curiosity, and confidence into 'her boys,' and staying in touch with so many of them throughout their lives."
“It is no exaggeration to say that across the region, state, nation, and globe, there are men who remember Mrs. Wallace’s influence on their lives, and who thank her for all she did to shape them during fourth grade, what they consider a pivotal year due to her dedication as a teacher and perhaps more importantly, a mentor and #1 fan throughout their lives," Mr. Manning wrote.
Mrs. Wallace did not want a lot of fanfare about her retirement, he added, which is fitting for a teacher who preferred to keep the focus on her students. However, alumni and members of the NA family immediately made it clear that they want to honor her. Plans to recognize her extraordinary service are underway and will be shared in the weeks ahead.
A native of Kentucky and graduate of the University of Kentucky, Mrs. Wallace taught elementary school grades in that state early in her career. She came to Hampton Roads with her husband, Richard, who taught history at Academy and coached cross country and track. Tragically, LTJG Wallace died in 1968, while serving in the United States Navy during the Vietnam War.
Their daughter, Katherine, graduated from Academy in 1984.
Throughout all the technological advances over 53 years, Ms. Wallace kept pace and challenged her students to extend their intellectual horizons. An avid reader, she strongly encouraged them to read and write, with a particular focus on creative writing, Mr. Manning noted. Their work also figured strongly in the Lower School literary magazine, The Mockingbird. Upon their graduation from NA, she would send them an envelope stuffed with their creative writing—poems, stories, and other writings — along with a personal letter.
As her students embarked from her class to more adventures at Norfolk Academy, she was there to cheer them on. She was in the audience for countless arts performances — concerts, plays, the Winter Musical, and dance shows. She followed their athletic successes too, and she was besieged by alumni at school events like Field Day and Homecoming. As some of her students returned to Hampton Roads after college to establish their professional lives and start families, they returned to the school as parents, and their sons flourished with Mrs. Wallace's guidance.
Mr. Manning concluded his letter this way: “As I reflect upon the many boys who have passed through the doors of 4B, emerging as more thoughtful, compassionate, and upstanding young people, I can only express my profound and humble thanks for her service to Norfolk Academy."