It's hard to find a better way to start second grade than with a party with your soon-to-be classmates in your teacher's backyard.
That is how Nancy J. Cobb, of Port Jefferson Station, introduced herself and the coming demands of school to the youngsters she taught at the Clinton Avenue Elementary School for more than three decades.
That exceptional warmth and dedication to her pupils was also evident in her hosting foreign exchange students, many of whom she stayed in touch with — and visited in their home countries, recalled her son, Jeff Cobb, of Windermere, Florida.
"Some of them called her their American mom; they were really broken up" to learn of her death, he said, partly because the leukemia that claimed her life at age 82 on Dec. 10 had gone undetected.
Nancy Cobb's courage carried her through even when she learned the end was near — and even on her last day, her concerns focused on her family and friends.
"She lived a wonderful life; she said the morning that she passed that she had a great life, she wouldn’t trade it for anything," her son said. "She’s telling everybody else to not be sad; she was strong and in control up until the very end."
Strength of character, coupled with a love of travel, sent her off to Europe on the Queen Mary ocean liner with a friend after graduating from Christopher Columbus High School in the Bronx in 1956, a trip they paid for by working at New York University.
She later would meet her husband, Scott Cobb, in Bermuda. "She and her friend — surprise, surprise — were traveling again," her son said.
Married in Queens, she and her husband in 1964 moved to Port Jefferson Station, where they built the house she would live in for the rest of her life.
And that is where her teaching career began, at the Christ Episcopal Church Sunday school. "She loved kids," Jeff Cobb said.
So when the couple divorced in the early 1970s and finances were tough, Nancy Cobb went back to school to become a teacher, first studying at Suffolk County Community College and then at Stony Brook University; in 1977, she completed a master's degree in liberal studies — with a hundred or so credits to spare, her son said.
She was often seen on the tennis courts at the Port Jefferson Country Club, and truly enjoyed her own flower and vegetable gardens and pool, often reading outside in the setting she created.
Family remained close; a granddaughter nicknamed her "Dolly dear."
Cobb’s decisions and the successes and achievements that resulted increased her self-assurance. And her drive to excel was also clearly evident in how she lived.
"Early on, she was quiet and shy and more reserved but I think after the divorce and when she went back to school, and started teaching," her son said, "I think she acquired — her confidence grew exponentially, and she just got stronger, and ultimately, did what she needed to do and attacked it and did it the best way she knew how to do."
Other survivors include son Ken Cobb, of East Setauket; two sisters, Jane Vandenthoorn, of Baiting Hollow, and Linda Randolph, of Coram; and five grandchildren.