FAIRFIELD — Reflecting on joining the district in 1976, longtime Fairfield teacher Marie Hayes said her start in the public schools was “just like landing, you come down where you ought to be.”

Born in Virginia and raised in Georgia, Hayes retired in 2007 after 30 years of teaching French and Italian at district high and middle schools. Hayes, 73, with boundless energy and a youthful laugh, was recently selected to be honored as a legendary faculty member of Fairfield Warde High School. The award — also a recognition of the school’s World Language Department — will be presented May 9 at the school’s faculty honors ceremony.

The honor is “a bit overwhelming, a bit humbling,” Hayes said. She has searched her thesaurus to describe her confused emotions over the recognition, ranging from humbled to flustered and anticipating an emotional ceremony.

Working in town for three decades, she said she enjoyed teaching and seeing kids grow. She came away with “a love of kids, a love of languages, a love of culture.”

Among her work, Hayes taught at Fairfield High School, when the town’s two high schools consolidated into a single site before eventually separating once again. Her children also graduated from the unified school, a situation she called “rich” and a time when a previous rivalry between separated schools subsided.

More Information

Remember Mrs. Hayes?

Jim D’Acosta, a Warde teacher, is collecting stories and testimonials to honor Marie Hayes at the May ceremony. Submissions including the senders identity, connection to Hayes and setting and year of their testimonial can be sent to jdacosta@fairfieldschools.org or Jim D’Acosta, Fairfield Warde High School, Fitts House, 755 Melville Ave., Fairfield 06825-2000.

“I just liked to see that brought together, and we’re about teaching the kids in this town and exposing them to as many ideas and as much diversity,” the Fairfield resident said. “It was just an exciting place to be, to work.”

Growing up in Savannah, Hayes — nicknamed “Re” by her grandmother for whom she was named — had an early love of learning, a self-described “odd child” that adored school and Girl Scouts. While she had studied French at the start of high school, it was not until she moved to Atlanta the summer before her senior year that she experienced a kind of personal renaissance as she fell in love with learning French and made bounds in her education.

“This tiny little woman came flying into the room like the latter-day Edith Piaf,” Hayes recalled of her Atlanta teacher. “She never spoke a word of English — it was all French — and I thought I was drowning…But my French just grew by light years.”

She attended college in Atlanta and then studied at a teaching college in Nashville, Tenn. After a year of teaching in Maryland, Hayes returned to the classroom as a student, spending “many happy years” earning a master’s degree and doctorate in French, with a comparative literature background and Italian minor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. To assuage initial self-doubt, she wrote prayers on the top of her notebooks, and by the time her master’s was nearing completion, Hayes was already starting toward the doctorate.

Also during her graduate studies, Hayes met and married a chemist and came to Fairfield “in his wake” when he got a job at Fairfield University. The couple lived in Milford for two years before moving to town.

Hayes began substitute teaching in Fairfield and Milford in 1976, which led to a full-time job in Fairfield the next fall at Roger Ludlowe High School. Five years at Tomlinson Middle School followed before she returned to the high school level at Fairfield High School and then Fairfield Warde High School.

“It was wonderful because I was teaching with some absolutely marvelous, stunning teachers,” Hayes said.

Fellow world language teachers she admired helped her learn the curriculum and adjust, though other elements were challenging. Hayes remembers walking down the hall and hearing a jeer about her southern accent. While people sometimes pick up on her accent, Hayes notes her northern roots, with a “three-quarters Yankee” background.

“Sometimes people say you’re not from around here, and I say no, but I make a real good damn Yankee,” she said.

But Hayes, who raised a daughter and son in town that attended district schools from Holland Hill Elementary School through Fairfield High School, is ingrained in the town’s community.

“I love Fairfield. I am definitely a settled member of the community,” she said. Since retiring from teaching, Hayes works as a substitute, paints, gardens and does yoga and pilates. She has traveled — including trips to Egypt, India and Jordan — and recently became politically involved with a local Indivisible group, Fairfield Standing United.

“It’s very frustrating to see what I consider to be American values being warped and people mistreated,” Hayes said. “I’m an enormous believer in the dignity of every single human being and the importance of the planet.”

lweiss@hearstmediact.com; @LauraEWeiss16