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Hernando educator remembered for work with special needs students

BY GEOFF FOX
Tribune Staff

Published:   |   Updated: July 17, 2014 at 10:57 AM

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SPRING HILL — Alison O’Reilly was known for her bubbly personality and passion for helping special-needs students.

O’Reilly’s family, friends and co-workers were saddened this week by the unexpected death of the popular Hernando County educator, who worked in the district’s Exceptional Student Education Department.

O’Reilly, 42, suffered a brain aneurysm early Saturday and died later at Bayfront Health St. Petersburg, the school district said.

Survivors include her husband, William “Bill” O’Reilly, and sons Peter, 17, a student at Nature Coast Technical High School, and Will, 13, a student at Gulf Coast Academy.

Cassandra Hall was O’Reilly’s best friend, as well as her boss.

“We were blessed to have her as long as we did,” said Hall, the district’s Exceptional Student Education coordinator. “One thing she would say is, ‘As long as I know I did everything I could for kids today, I’ll sleep well.’

“She was selfless. Everything she did was for kids — every waking moment.”

Hall said O’Reilly was especially adept at working with students with severe cognitive difficulties.

“She built bonds with families over the years,” hall said. “She’s seen kids graduate. She helped them find their way and guided them through. She (helped them understand) what they wanted to do when they grow up.

“She put everybody else before her.”

Mary LeDoux, principal at Eastside Elementary School, described O’Reilly as a devoted friend and dedicated professional, whose sudden death has affected countless people.

“She was incredibly bubbly, and always very happy. I never saw her unhappy,” LeDoux said. “She was very energetic, motivated and so compassionate for kids with disabilities. She would give the shirt off her back to anybody.

“She was at my school many times last year. If you called her, she’d be out in 30 minutes. She loved helping teachers, helping the schools and kids. She was a huge child advocate.”

O’Reilly started her career in Hernando, when she worked as an intern at West Hernando Middle School. She later taught at Fox Chapel Middle School and the Challenger K-8 School before accepting the district post in 2010.

“She had not been feeling well the last week,” LeDoux said. “She had migraines and (nausea). She went to get an MRI and a CAT scan, and everything came back fine. She posted on Facebook Friday that the tests came back normal.”

Eric Williams, the district’s public information officer, said he knew O’Reilly for years, both through work and as parents of Boy Scouts.

“She was really approachable and easy to get along with, somebody you could count on to help you with anything,” Williams said.

As the district’s ESE representative on the instruction review team, O’Reilly was widely known, LeDoux and Williams said.

“She really helped you understand how we could give schools good advice on how to improve services to students with disabilities,” Williams said. “She wasn’t a principal or director, but she was always willing to speak up. She was bold.”

Williams said that O’Reilly’s sudden death has left colleagues stunned.

“You almost don’t even really understand it, then you feel the impacts of her being gone,” he said. “She was a great person. I’m 42, as well. I couldn’t believe I had to write that” she died.

Cathy Dofka, the district’s director of Exceptional Student Education and Student Services, said O’Reilly was “a great person, both personally and professionally.”

“Conversations with her were always about her own kids and everything they were doing,” Dofka said. “She always went over and above (what was expected). You could always count on her. You could ask her to do anything and you had it immediately, completed. The end product of anything she did was exemplary.”

A funeral was held at 7 p.m. Thursday.

Anyone interested in donating can call Susan Smith at the district’s ESE Department at (352) 797-7022.

gfox@tampatrib.com

(352) 544-5283

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