In Memory: Patricia “Patty” Westhafer

The Mary Baldwin community is saddened to announce the loss of Dr. Patricia “Patty” Westhafer, a trailblazing retired professor of education. She passed away on February 20, 2022, at Augusta Health in Fishersville at the age of 75.

“Patty was passionate about teaching and preparing skilled, dedicated young teachers to share her profession,” said retired director of MBU’s master of arts in teaching program Carole Grove. She spent 10 years working closely with Westhafer to found and develop the program. 

“Patty was the epitome of a ‘teacher’s teacher,’” Grove continued. “She touched many lives in her long career — and I know those young women have paid that passion forward by touching the lives of countless others.” 

From left: Former dean of MBU’s College of Education Patricia “Patty” Westhafer posing for yearbook photo in 1986. She passed away on February 20, 2022, at the age of 75.

Westhafer’s journey to become a leading secondary education expert began in 1969 with a job teaching sixth grade at Shelburne Middle School in Staunton.

There she quickly noticed learning gaps in reading between students that came from disadvantaged backgrounds and those that didn’t. Westhafer wanted to close that gap, and pushed for opportunities to work with struggling students one-on-one or in small groups. That led to a role as the school system’s reading specialist.  

But Westhafer soon realized that, to be truly effective, she needed more education. She saw “there were distinct differences in the way that students learned, and that the needs of many students were not being met in a traditional classroom environment,” wrote Westhafer’s husband, Terry, in a memorial statement

Westhafer subsequently enrolled in the University of Virginia’s master of reading education program in 1974. She followed it with a doctoral degree that focused on pairing cutting edge instructional methodology with individual learning styles. Throughout she continued her work with Staunton City Schools. 

By 1984 Westhafer was ready for something bigger: Fifteen years in the public school system had made it clear teachers needed better training. She realized she could help more students by sharing her knowledge, and accepted a professorship in Mary Baldwin’s education program. 

It didn’t take long for Westhafer to become a pillar of the campus community.  

“The only way I know to describe Patty’s pedagogy is passionate,” said longtime MBU Professor of Education Alice Waddell. “She saw her position as an opportunity to make an impact on the future through the development of teachers. She was loving and friendly to everyone in her sphere, and her students adored her.”

Late professor Patricia “Patty” Westhafer posing for a yearbook photo in 1999.

Over the years Waddell and fellow colleagues developed a deep admiration of Westhafer’s seemingly unquenchable thirst for the latest research around learning and instructional delivery. They were inspired by the way she routinely went the extra mile to nurture students and maintain relationships well after graduation.  

“She was far more than an excellent classroom teacher,” reflected MBU Professor Emeritus of Philosophy and Religious Studies Roderic Owen. “She served as a mentor and professional sponsor into the teaching profession for several generations of students.”     

Westhafer retired from Mary Baldwin in 2010 after 26 years of service. Her accomplishments were many, but included chairing the education department, receiving a prestigious Mednick Fellowship from the Virginia Foundation for Independent Colleges, and establishing a free tutoring program that connected disadvantaged students in local public schools with MBU teachers-in-training. She also spearheaded the design and creation of the master of arts in teaching program.

Reflecting on Westhafer’s countless contributions to MBU, university President Pamela R. Fox recalled a conversation about the challenges and rewards of launching the master’s program.

“She said, ‘When we live and treat all others with honor and respect, the teachers we train honor their students,’” said Fox. “‘And this is a predicate for children’s success in school, and a foundation of honor and integrity for their lives.’ Patty did everything in her power to ensure our program reflected that ideal.” 

Fox, Owen, Waddell, and Grove agree that Westhafer was wildly successful in achieving her mission. They — along with Westhafer’s husband, Terry — call the skilled, compassionate, and talented teachers Mary Baldwin’s education program has helped to produce her life’s work.  

Outside of MBU, Westhafer is remembered as a loving wife, mother, sister, aunt, and grandmother. She is survived by her husband of 53 years, two adult daughters, and four grandchildren.

Her family will hold a memorial service at 2 p.m. on Saturday, March 19 at the Covenant Presbyterian Church in Staunton. CLICK HERE for more information.

“When we live and treat all others with honor and respect, the teachers we train honor their students. And this is a predicate for children’s success in school, and a foundation of honor and integrity for their lives.”

Dr. Patricia “Patty” Westhafer