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While in class, teacher suffers heart attack

Students at Ben Hill Middle School learn that despite their aid, Ann Peeler died.

Published October 23, 2004

TAMPA - Halfway through the school day, language arts teacher Ann Peeler sat down in her chair at Ben Hill Middle School on Thursday and lost consciousness in front of 32 eighth-graders.

They hustled to get help. Principal Nancy Anderson came running to the second-floor classroom. A fellow teacher dialed 911 on a cell phone. Anderson performed CPR and tried to revive Mrs. Peeler with a cardiac defibrillator before paramedics rushed her to University Community Hospital.

But it was no use.

Friday, students got the sad news.

Mrs. Peeler, 55, had died of an apparent heart attack, said school district spokesman Mark Hart.

Family, friends and colleagues described Mrs. Peeler as a committed teacher who loved to laugh, bonded closely with her students and wanted, more than anything else, for the world to be a beautiful place.

She loved English, speech, theater, literature and the classics. Charles Dickens was a personal favorite.

She worked as a real estate broker on the side, and enjoyed dance classes.

A native of Utica, N.Y., Mrs. Peeler joined the staff at Hill in 1997 but began her Hillsborough County teaching career in 1973 as a teacher at Plant High. She also taught at Tampa Bay Technical High School and Young Middle School.

She took a break from education from 1981 to 1991 and sold real estate. Her daughter, Michelle Green, said she developed an uncanny knack for the profession that continued until her death.

"The deal was never over for her," Green said. "She took care of her clients for years."

Hart said he saw many students and teachers crying Friday at the school.

Her students were encouraged to talk with crisis counselors.

"They're making cards for her family," he said. "They want to retire her chair."

Everyone took turns signing a banner that will be given to Mrs. Peeler's family. Some students made lapel pins memorializing their teacher.

"She was the type of person kids felt like they could open up to," said Ben Hill nurse Cathy Ellis. "She was one that would give out candy, joke with them a little. This is such a shock to them."

Ellis applauded the students who witnessed Mrs. Peeler's collapse.

"Our kids are wonderful," she said. "They immediately got help."

On Friday, Mrs. Peeler's friends and family tried to remember the laughs instead of the sorrow.

"She was hilarious," her daughter said. "She was the life of the party. If you were having a bad day, she would make you laugh before you got off the phone with her."

Hart described Mrs. Peeler's humor as self deprecating.

"People would be in stitches when she relayed a joke," he said.

She is survived by her husband, Edward Peeler Sr.; three children, Green, Kimberly Morrow and Edward Peeler Jr.; and two grandsons.

A memorial service is scheduled for 3-6 p.m. Sunday and a funeral is set for 1 p.m. Monday, both at Gonzalez Funeral Home, 7209 N Dale Mabry Highway.

Melanie Ave can be reached at 813 226-3400 or

[Last modified October 23, 2004, 01:12:14]

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