LYNN — Lincoln-Thomson Elementary School students dash off to summer vacation next Tuesday but not before they say goodbye to the woman who fed them and many of their parents for four decades.
Carol McPherson, 78, will assemble and lay out meals for 236 students in the Gardiner Street school for the last time, capping off a 36-year career during which she discovered the vital ingredient for school breakfasts and lunches is love.
“I love this place. The teachers stay forever and the best part is the little kids who come up to me and say, ‘Miss Carol, please don’t retire,'” she said.
A Lynn native whose childhood homes included Memorial Park Avenue military barracks erected during World War II, McPherson attended the former Lewis School on Chestnut Street.
One of her first jobs was working as a secretary at Lynn Hospital. She met her husband, Thomas, while working for a Wakefield company and the couple bought a home on Newton Avenue just a couple of blocks from Lincoln-Thomson.
Their daughter, Cindi, and sons, William and Scott, attended Lincoln-Thomson and McPherson joined the school’s Parent Teacher Association.
“They said, ‘Gee, would you like to be lunch aide?’ I said, ‘Yes,’ and it was a lot of fun,” she said.
An opening for the school’s food distributor job gave her a chance to work part-time and she quickly became known for dispensing hugs and smiles along with school breakfasts and lunches.
Her work day in Lincoln-Thomson’s basement lunch room starts at 6:30 a.m. with McPherson checking to make sure the big refrigerators are set to the correct temperatures. She loads the pre-made meals every morning onto racks in preparation for heating them up. Breakfast time is 7:50 a.m. followed by the first lunch at 11:15 a.m.
Three co-workers help McPherson assemble and serve meals, including head preparer Nadia Hnine, who said McPherson’s retirement leaves a void that will be hard to fill in the next school year.
“I love her so much. I don’t know what we are going to do without her,” Hnine said.
A career spent serving a seemingly endless procession of hot dogs, pizza and other lunch fare didn’t dampen McPherson’s enthusiasm for her job. She points with pride at the ServSafe certificates she and Hnine received. To earn the certificates, the pair participated in an extensive food hygiene examination.
McPherson has kept her job even in the face of a life-threatening accident. Struck by a car in 2014 while getting into her car, she suffered a traumatic head injury, facial injuries, leg fractures and an injury to her left hand.
Two weeks in Massachusetts General Hospital were followed by physical rehabilitation. She returned to Lincoln-Thomson in 2016.
“I was very lucky. I never thought about not coming back,” she said.
Working out of a school office decorated with student drawings, she is thrilled to run into former students who remember her smile and kind words served up with lunch.
“They’ll say, ‘I remember you. You were so kind to me,'” she said.
Retirement will mean spending time with her grandchildren, volunteering at an animal shelter, and fishing — “the best place is the bridge by General Electric,” she said.