Many knew Margaret Grant Slawson as an English teacher, but to her family, she lived a life of teaching moments.
If you praised the Bay Shore resident for her 55 years or so of helping youngsters read at Bible camp, she’d shush you. When her son boasted of his baseball skills, she told him no need because others would heap praise on the truly talented.
Plus, one dared not utter “I can’t do this” to her, because Slawson, a Depression-era baby, had overcome her “dirt poor” childhood.
“She was about helping people,” said her son Andy Slawson of Islip Terrace, an associate high school sports editor at Newsday. “My mom grew up as a real poor person and she always, always talked about family and about how other people were worse off than you are, [so] don’t complain about your problems. Try to help the world.”
That’s what the retiree did until she suffered a stroke in October and died Monday of complications at age 85 at an East Islip nursing home.
Despite her quiet, unassuming ways, Slawson was the “toughest” person he’d ever met, said her grandson Andrew Slawson.
Born in upstate Deposit, she took an 18-credit load per semester at local St. Bonaventure University and worked through college to pay for her teaching degree — washing dishes at a hot hospital kitchen more than 40 hours a week, barely getting time for sleep and homework, her family said.
“She told me never to give up and when you think you can’t do something, you can always do more,” said her grandson, a teacher living in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. “That’s something I’ll teach my kid one day.”
She met her future husband, John Slawson, in their first week teaching at the same high school, and 10 months after their blind date, they married.
Margaret and John followed the teaching jobs to Long Island, where she taught at two middle schools in the North Babylon district as she raised three children.
The Slawsons gave them what Andy called a “unique childhood.” For weeks each summer, they’d take the kids camping cross country, visiting 47 states. She’d attend all her son’s sport games and cook for her son’s football team.
At home, she’d watch or listen to Yankees games, referring to baseball greats such as Joe DiMaggio by their first names. Her favorite was Derek Jeter or “her Derek,” as her children liked to say.
“She loved her family, she loved her church and she loved the New York Yankees,” said her son, who sometimes jokingly wondered in which order.
After Slawson retired in 1992, she became even more of a church lady. She was active in her Presbyterian Church of Islip, from the blood drive to the women’s guild, her relatives said. Each week, she bought food, cooked and organized soup kitchen meals for 25 years at her friend’s church, they said, and baked and donated weekly at her own church.
Andrew Slawson said his grandmother is woven into the fabric of his childhood memories. He set the tables at her soup kitchen meals. At Christmas, just the two of them decorated her tree, their tradition. When she picked him up at school, she’d treat him to McDonald’s. When he used bad grammar, she’d correct him in a nice way, just as he tries to do now with his students.
“It’s funny how many times she can pop up in my head,” her grandson said.
Slawson was predeceased by her husband and by son Jonathan.
She is also survived by daughter Elizabeth Slawson of Huntington, Connecticut; two other grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren.
A wake will be held from 7 to 9 p.m. Thursday at Frederick J. Chapey & Sons Funeral home in East Islip. A funeral will be held Friday at 11 a.m. at the Presbyterian Church in Islip.
Burial will be at noon Saturday at Ouleout Valley Cemetery in upstate Franklin.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story gave an incorrect place of birth and misstated the number of years she taught bible school.