Rosemary Ann Gauza had a passion for teaching, and a passion for people.
The Riderwood Elementary School fourth-grade teacher had a particular knack for reaching out to children, said principal Kathy DeHart.
"They were not just names in a grade book, they were not just faces sitting in front of a desk," DeHart said. "She knew about their families, about their pets, about their passions. She would get to know them and she would give each of them a nickname."
Ms. Gauza, 52, a Perry Hall resident, died Thursday after falling ill earlier in the week. Ms. Gauza missed last school year because of an illness.
Ms. Gauza, who began her teaching career 30 years ago in Baltimore City, had taught at Riderwood since 1995. She began as a special education teacher, but later moved to fourth grade.
"Rose was an incredible individual," DeHart said. "She was out all last year and the one thing that was the light at the end of her tunnel was being able to return to Riderwood and her kids. She loved teaching. She was passionate about what she did and she was very good at it."
She would adorn her children with nicknames, names nobody else called them outside the classroom, like "Dancer" or "Kit-Kat," DeHart recalled.
"That formed a very special bond, and she just always went the extra mile for children," she said.
Ms. Gauza's other great passion, besides teaching, was her pets. A cat lover, Ms. Gauza leaves behind three cats—Tigger, Charlie and Rockie. She would often talk about her cats in the classroom.
"They were like her children at home," DeHart said. "They got as good health care as any human being I know, and she was really proud of them."
DeHart said a letter was sent home with students alerting parents about Ms. Gauza's death. She said a county trauma team was available Friday to assist students.
This is the second time in the last several years that Riderwood staffers have lost one of their own—media specialist Bob Hallett died in 2009 after a battle with leukemia.
DeHart said the second loss hits hard, "especially for her grade level teammates because they worked together such a strong cohesive unit. There are things they plan together and they go over testing results together. They plan field trips together."
Ms. Gauza is survived by brother Stephen W. Gauza, cousin Wendy Browning and various cousins, neices and nephews.
Family and friends will gather at Evans Funeral Chapel at 8800 Harford Road from 2 to 4 p.m. and 6 to 8 p.m. Saturday and from 1 to 3 p.m. on Sunday. The funeral will be held at noon on Monday at St. Ursula Catholic Church, with internment at Holy Rosary cemetery.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made to Greater Baltimore Lymphedema and Rehabilitation Center, 6701 N. Charles St., Suite 4377, Towson, Maryland 21204 or Animal Rescue Inc., 2 Heritage Farm Drive, New Freedom, PA 17349.
A guestbook is available on the Evans Funeral Chapel website.