Michele P.'s Story
Michael Durgin found it somewhat odd last week when, in a visit to his mother’s house, his sister, Michele, was gushing about the Super-Bowl bound Patriots.
“She was all animated about the Patriots,” he recalled. “I told her I was surprised she was so excited. She said that ever since somebody explained the 4-down thing, football was much more interesting to her.”
The 4-down thing, as in you have four downs to try to get 10 yards, or you punt?
“She went to hundreds of football games and she didn’t have a clue about that,” Mike Durgin said, laughing. “There’s probably a lesson there that you can’t presume anything about what you think a family might be communicating with each other.”
That was one of many stories the Durgins have found themselves retelling in the last three days, since getting the shocking news that Michele, 55, died Saturday night after her car went off the road in Marblehead and struck a tree. It is unclear whether a medical event may have caused the accident.
“She was one of the good ones,” Helen Durgin said of her daughter.
Helen recalled rushing a 7-week-old Michele to the hospital with meningitis on Christmas Eve in 1961. She was in the hospital for an extended stay, but she recovered and went on to live a life in which she was thoroughly committed to doing for others.
“Once one of us got married and had kids, that was the house she planted herself at,” said Michele’s sister, Maura Durgin-Scully. “She spent all of her time at our houses with our children.”
When she was stricken, Michele was on the way to her sister Marcy Durgin Cronin’s house for her nightly check-in with Marcy and Clarke’s children, Maggie and Matthew.
Michele never married, but in addition to her 13 nieces and nephews, she considered as her own the thousands of children who came through St. Mary’s in her 23 years as a teacher and administrator. She had taught at St. Jean Baptiste elementary school for seven years before being brought to St. Mary’s to start the junior high program.
Michele, a graduate of Lynn Classical and Salem State University, was largely responsible for the dramatic growth of the junior high, from 40 students to a high of more than 170 in 2003-04.
“That is her legacy,” Maura said. “She took it and ran with it.”
Marcy, 13 years younger than Michele, had her as a teacher at St. Jean’s. She remembered the time she broke a school rule and Michele had to call their mother with the bad news: Marcy was suspended. “That was not a pleasant day,” Helen said, with Marcy concurring, though the rest of the family seems to have gotten quite a kick out of it.
Michele poured her heart and soul into St. Mary’s and its students.
“What strikes me is the number of children and families she touched,” Maura said. “They were the children she never had. That was the reason she got up every day and went to school.”
“I have so much respect for what she did and the way she did it,” Matt said. “Her life was helping kids, and not just during the day. She wanted to be involved in everything. There are givers and there are takers; she was a giver.”
Michele arrived at St. Mary’s just a few months after Carl DiMaiti came to the school as vice principal. Over the next quarter-century, the pair developed an infrangible professional and personal bond, or as Maura put it, “Carl was her BFF.”
DiMaiti recalled Michele and her father, Hal, setting up desks and painting walls in the new St. Mary’s Junior High in 1990.
“She built that junior high,” he said. “People wanted to get in and be a part of it.’
DiMaiti, now the head of school at Pope John, where Michele was teaching English and religion this year, said at St. Mary’s she had a penchant for making sure that it was not only the top students who got into the college of their choice.
“She took a great deal of satisfaction in helping that next-level kid move on,” he said.
“She was the champion of the underdog,” Marcy added.
Michele loved to read and spend her summers at Short Beach in Nahant. She was an accomplished writer, doing feature stories for The Daily Item for the last two years. Before her dad died in 2001, she would go to the movies with him regularly and they would go on Christmas shopping sprees that typically ended with a meal of Chinese food.
In addition to her mother, Helen, brothers, Michael and Matt, and sisters Maura and Marcy, Michele also leaves a brother, Mark, who played football at Classical when Michele dressed as the official Ram mascot; sisters-in-law Catherine (Rowley) Durgin and Belinda (Tracy) Durgin; brothers-in-law, David Scully and Clarke Cronin; nieces Meaghan Durgin, Elizabeth (Durgin) Sipprelle, Emily (Durgin) Doggett, Madalyn Durgin, Molly Durgin, Mattie Durgin, Halle Scully, Maggie Cronin and Kylie Durgin; nephews Jake Scully, Spencer Scully, Matthew Cronin and Joel Durgin; and her beloved 11-year-old Pomeranian dog, Jack.
She also leaves a legacy of doing right by those fortunate enough to know her.
“We’re all better off because of Michele,” Maura said. “She was the voice of reason. She didn’t just talk it, she walked it. She will be greatly missed.”
Her Funeral will be held on Friday at 10 a.m. from the Solimine Funeral Home, 426 Broadway, (Route 129), Lynn, followed by a Funeral Mass at 11 a.m. in St. Mary’s Church. Relatives and friends are respectfully invited to attend. Visiting hours Thursday 4 to 8 p.m. Donations in her memory may be made to the Michele Durgin Memorial Scholarship c/o Lynn Classical Alumni and Friends Association, 235 O’Callaghan Way, Lynn, MA 01905. Directions and guestbook at www.solimine.com.
Published on  January 31, 2017