DONNA DRENNAN SHEPARD, 55, died in 1999. Cancer was
not a private battle for Donna Shepard. She took it
into the street and into the offices and classrooms
at Mary Orr Intermediate School, where she was principal.
She carried her chemotherapy treatments in a fanny pack
or backpack and, eventually, pulled her intravenous
nutrition behind her in a rolling luggage bag.
A year ago, a liver transplant gave cause for optimism,
but the cancer reappeared and spread. After a four-year
fight, she died at an Arlington hospital. She was 55.
Burial was at Emerald Hills Memorial Park in Kennedale,
Mrs. Shepard, who lived in Rendon, almost never missed
a day of work. She was a teacher of life, forcing students
to see not only a cold reality of the world but also sheer
determination and caring, said those close to her.
"Even though she was really ill, she would always have a
smile," said Matt Ellison, an eighth-grade who was a former
office aide for Mrs. Shepard. "She was never depressing to
be around, but you always knew she was hurting. But she
wanted to be there. That's what she needed to do."
Born April 17, 1944, in Susanville, CA. She attended
Ranger High School in the Class of 1962 and attended
Ranger Jr. College at Ranger, TX. Donna worked 28
years in education, including two as an Arlington
teacher and 20 as a teacher and later an administrator
in Mansfield. She was appointed principal at Mary Orr
Intermediate in 1994. In 1996, she became only the
second administrator to win the district's Mile Award,
generally reserved for innovative teachers.
Last summer, after recovering from her transplant, Mrs.
Shepard donned a hard hat and helped oversee the final
construction of the new building for Mary Orr.
"I just thank God that she was able to open Mary Orr," said
district spokeswoman Sherilyn Conn, fighting back tears.
"That made all the difference in the world. It would not
have been the same if she hadn't."
Doctors declared Mrs. Shepard cancer-free after the transplant
but in December she underwent hip replacement surgery after a
tumor was detected. Again, she appeared free of cancer until
it was discovered in her stomach in early spring.
Nevertheless, she achieved her goal of finishing the school
year, said Alma Martinez, acting principal at Mary Orr.
Mrs. Shepard's closeness to the students is one of her legacies.
It also made her vulnerable to a prank in April 1997, when an
employee told her that a drunken man was threatening children
outside. She bolted through the front doors, fists clenched,
only to find about 800 students and staff members standing on
the grounds, releasing helium balloons and chanting "Happy
"These kids are my life," she said moments after the surprise.
"Without them I might just give up."
At the time of her death, Mrs. Shepard was survived by her
husband, Richard Shepard of Rendon; son, Jim Shepard of Austin;
mother, Evangeline Brewer of Everman; brother, Jim Drennan
(RHS-1964) of Atlanta; sister, Carol Naegele (RHS-1966) of
Eastland; grandson, Ben Shepard; and two grand-daughters,
Jessica and Emily Shepard.
Her sister Linda Drennan Yarbrough (RHS-1960), also died
Donna Shepard Intermediate School in Mansfield TX