Sarah Comer Kirkley, 92, lifelong educator who helped integrate schools

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Sarah Comer Kirkley died peacefully in her sleep on Aug. 26, 2016. She lived a long and full life, just three weeks shy of her ninety-third birthday.

Sarah was born on Sept. 18, 1923 in Wilkes County, N.C., the only daughter of William Thomas Comer and Etha Caudill Comer. She grew up in Stony Point, N.C., where she received her early education. Sarah graduated from Lenoir-Rhyne College in Hickory, N.C. and went on to take graduate courses at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Sarah loved to share the stories of her upbringing as the daughter of the local Baptist preacher. She loved her college days, especially her tennis matches with Carolina football legends Clarence Stasavich and Charles “Choo Choo” Justice. Her family members heard these stories many times!

Sarah was a life-long educator. She began her career in North Carolina, where she taught elementary school until she met and married her beloved Kirk (William E.) Kirkley. Sarah and Kirk moved to Norfolk in October 1946. Their first daughter Joan was born in 1947, followed by second child Nancy in 1953. Shortly after Nancy’s birth, Kirk was diagnosed with tuberculosis, and spent two years recovering in a sanitarium. Sarah courageously held the family together in his absence and returned to work while caring for her two young girls.

Sarah’s career path took her in many directions. She began her Norfolk experience as a teacher at the Cerebral Palsy Center, then became a classroom teacher, a helping teacher, a director of
elementary gifted and talented students, a teaching principal, and a full principal. While working and raising her family, she also continued her own education at the College of William & Mary, earning her master’s in education. She became an assistant director of personnel for Norfolk Public Schools, tasked with recruiting, interviewing and hiring all teachers for elementary schools in Norfolk. Her proudest accomplishment was selecting opposite race teachers to begin the process of integrating the staffs of nearly every Norfolk public elementary school.

Sarah was predeceased by her husband, her parents, five brothers, a grandson, David Kirkley Stone, and a granddaughter, Kelly King Reilly. She is survived by her two daughters, Joan
Stone (Bob) and Nancy King (Bob); grandchildren Jen Kuratich (Patrick), Robert King, and Ryan King; as well as several nieces and nephews. Sarah dearly loved children and being with her family, especially her grandchildren.

Sarah was an active member of Royster Memorial Presbyterian Church, and was devoted to her church family. She was a tireless volunteer at church and in many professional and service organizations. She was also an avid bridge player who loved socializing with her fellow players.

Her family would like to thank Sarah’s caregivers at Harbor’s Edge Memory Support and Hospice and Palliative Care of Tidewater for their tenderness, patience and support.

There will be a celebration of Sarah’s life at 11:00 a.m. on Friday, Sept. 9 at Royster Memorial Presbyterian Church in Norfolk, with a private burial in Forest Lawn Cemetery. In lieu of flowers the family requests donations to the Alzheimer’s Association. H.D. Oliver Funeral Aptartments, Norfolk Chapel, is handling arrangements. Online condolences may be sent to the family through www.hdoliver.com.

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