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Educator Thaye Ann Richards Kearns dies at age 74

‘She taught, advocated for and improved the lives of hundreds of children throughout her career’

by Gail Strange | Presbyterian News Service

Thaye Ann Richards Kearns

LOUISVILLE — Thaye Ann Richards Kearns, an early childhood education specialist credited with improving the lives of hundreds of children throughout her career, died June 25 at age 74.

Born in Suffolk, Virginia, she was described as a uniquely loving and caring person of tremendous faith and strength.

In a recent social media post, her husband of 51 years, the Rev. Curtis A. Kearns Jr., former executive administrator in the Office of the Executive Director in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s General Assembly Council, wrote, “It is with deep sorrow that I inform all our friends and loved ones of the death of Thaye Ann Richards Kearns after a long struggle with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. Ann had a strong faith, a beautiful soul and a wonderful spirit and she leaves an enduring legacy of care and nurture that will benefit us all. Rest in peace my dear.”

Kearns received her bachelor of science degree in mathematics from Randolph Macon Woman’s College (now Randolph College)  in 1969 and she earned a master’s degree in education from Trinity College, now Trinity Washington University, in Washington D.C., then entered the workforce as a teacher.

She was an early childhood education teacher for many years in Montgomery County Public Schools in Maryland and retired as an early childhood education specialist for Jefferson County Public Schools in Kentucky. She taught, advocated for and improved the lives of hundreds of children throughout her career.

Kearns’ achievements as an educator were numerous. At Trinity College, she designed and implemented the workshop “Creating a Multicultural Environment in an Early Childhood Setting.” As a Montgomery County teacher, she studied Black authors and won a fellowship for independent study in the humanities to advocate for their inclusion in school curriculum. In both Montgomery and Jefferson counties, she created after-school cultural clubs for girls of color to help build their confidence and leadership skills.

In a blog post in commemoration of Women’s History Month in March 2020, Kearns’ son, C. Andre Kearns III, wrote, “Throughout her career I saw her teach, advocate for and improve the lives of hundreds of children. As I reflect on the impact of her career, it inspires me to know that so many students benefited from her caring, just as my sister and I did as her children.”

In a tribute to Kearns, Cynthia White, former coordinator for the Presbyterian Committee on the Self-Development of People, called Kearns “a gentle soul, an inspiration to many. Ann was a mentor to so many of us, quietly guiding young sisters through mazes of uncertainty.”

The Rev. Dr. Rhashell Hunter, immediate past director of Racial Equity & Women’s Intercultural Ministries, said, “Ann Kearns always greeted you with a smile and made you feel welcome and valuable. She had a kind spirit. She may have always had good relationship skills, but she certainly used her listening and teaching skills as an early childhood educator.”

“Ann was beautiful, had a mild demeanor and quick intelligence, but what was most striking about her was her deep and abiding faith in Christ Jesus,” Hunter said. “It was evident. My mother was also an educator and pastor’s wife, so I know how hard that role is. But Ann handled it with such ability and grace, giving of her time, talent and labor to improve the lives of many. We will miss her. We especially hold our sibling in Christ, Curtis, and the Kearns family in our hearts and prayers.”

She is survived by her husband, the Rev. Curtis A. Kearns Jr., and her two children, Andre and Chandra. In lieu of flowers, the family encourages people to make a memorial donation in her name to Community Bridges, an organization with a mission aligned to her life’s work.

A viewing and funeral took place on Friday at Southminster Presbyterian Church, 7500 Hull Street Road in North Chesterfield, Virginia. Burial will take place at noon Saturday at Lincoln Memorial Cemetery in Hillcrest Heights, Maryland.

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