Fayette County

Former Lexington Teacher of the Year Patricia Esrael dies

Patricia Esrael was surrounded by applauding Southern Junior High students on Sept. 23, 1985, after being named Fayette County Teacher of the Year.
Patricia Esrael was surrounded by applauding Southern Junior High students on Sept. 23, 1985, after being named Fayette County Teacher of the Year. Herald-Leader archives

Patricia Esrael, 78, a Lexington English teacher whose 39-year career was marked by the personal interest she took in her students, died Wednesday.

Esrael was named Fayette County Teacher of the Year in 1985 during a long tenure at Southern Junior High and was part of the inaugural staff at Paul Laurence Dunbar High School.

After retiring from Fayette County Public Schools in 1993, she taught nine years at Lexington Catholic High School.

She made a point of identifying students from challenging backgrounds and trying to intervene on a deeper level.

Former student Gil Duran

Lee Jenkins, who is retired from the banking industry, said he first met Esrael in 1963 at Leestown Junior High, when she was in her first year of teaching and he was a youngster transitioning from an all-black school.

Jenkins said he and Esrael formed an attachment that lasted throughout their lives.

She attended his high school graduation, came to family weekends during his college years and was there when he got married. She was his daughter’s godmother.

“I don’t know who I’d be if it hadn’t been for her influence,” Jenkins said. “Those mother-son talks, I had with Pat Esrael.”

Gil Duran said he was living in a halfway house and attending Dunbar High School when she entered his life as the teacher of his English and journalism classes.

When it looked as though he might end up going to live with family in Los Angeles, Esrael and her husband stepped up and took him in.

“She made a point of identifying students from challenging backgrounds and trying to intervene on a deeper level,” he said. “She understood that there was a context for each student’s life.”

Duran said the trajectory of his life changed after meeting Esrael, and he went on to a career as a newspaper reporter before serving as spokesman for U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein and California Gov. Jerry Brown.

“Her life was a testament to the power of teachers,” he said.

Esrael, who led more than 20 student groups to Europe, said in a 1985 Herald-Leader article that she enjoyed working with young teens because they were at an age where they were becoming more independent and “exploring themselves and testing their environment.”

“I really love kids,” she said. “If you treat them as human beings, they’re just delightful. If you keep your promises and treat them with respect, they truly are fun.”

Esrael is survived by her husband of 33 years, Terry Esrael; a son, Edward Drondoski of Ft. Pierce, Fla.; and two stepchildren, Trevor Esrael of Carmel, Ind., and Wende Randall of Wyoming, Mich.

Funeral services will be held privately. Milward Funeral Directors’ Southland Drive location is in charge of arrangements.

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