‘Candy Lady’ retires after long association with Shearer Elementary

Published 10:00 am Friday, October 13, 2023

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When Shearer Elementary School opened in 1972, few could have known what the future held.

Yet after more than 50 years, a long-time employee connected to the school from its inception has completed quite a journey.

Paula Branham Thomas, an original student of the school upon its opening in 1972 and an employee of over thirty years, celebrated her last day at work on Friday, Sept. 29.

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“I’ve spent more than half my life in Shearer Elementary School,” said Thomas, retiring as the school’s secretary/bookkeeper. “I have enjoyed my time at Shearer School both as a student and staff!”

The youngest of eight children, Thomas – a Winchester native – began her schooling at Hickman Elementary School before heading to the then newly built Shearer.

After two years as a student, she followed the path of many of her classmates, attending junior high school before graduating from George Rogers Clark High School in 1980.

Twelve years later, she returned to Shearer and spent eight years working as an instructional assistant/paraeducator, followed by one year as a computer lab/attendance clerk before spending the next twenty-two years in her most recent position.

In that time, she has seen much change and evolve.

“The biggest [change], I think, is technology. It has changed how assignments are completed now, including math all on Chromebooks,” Thomas said. “No more snow days [either]. Now [we have] NTI Days.”

Although affiliated with Shearer, Thomas has not always been affiliated with the same building.

As some might recall, a fire at the school in Oct. 1998 led her to be at Central Baptist Church for two years.

“Rising out of the ashes came a new Shearer school in 2000,” Thomas said.

Known to many students as Ms. Paula, or the “Candy Lady,” for being a reliable source of sweets for students and staff, Thomas adds that she has seen many families come through Shearer.

While Kenneth Caudill was her principal as a student – and she has worked under twelve different principals – Thomas later worked with his wife, Rebecca Caudill, who was also her late son’s elementary school teacher.

Though acknowledging that the passing of her son, Travis Ryan Thomas, dampens her retirement to an extent, she also looks forward to the time that will be spent with her husband, Ricky.

Reflecting on her days at Shearer, Thomas acknowledges that working with kids has made the most significant impact.

“We’ve had several children that come from [challenging] homes,” Thomas said. “I ran into one not too long ago…She said, ‘When I think of you, I think of kindness.’ That [touched] my heart.”

She also imparted some words of wisdom.

“The best advice that I can give is the best advice that I received from [former] Principal Regina Dawson when she was here and that is to, ‘Stay true to yourself and always treat others as you want to be treated,’” Thomas said. “I will add, ‘Put God first, then family, friends, then work!’”