In almost four decades at a thriving Catholic boys’ school, there are many graduations to coordinate, projects to monitor and problems to solve.
Of course, Christopher Columbus High School has had a team of staffers, teachers and alumni overseeing its growth from 150 students at its 1958 opening to more than 1,350 students and 12,700 alumni today.
But Pat Bixby, who died June 29, could be called a legend among them for her commitment, work ethic and expertise in handling the fundraising Walk-a-Thons, graduations and masses — everything from coordinating ID cards to replacing school keys.
Bixby, an unpaid volunteer at the school for more than 30 years, was 87, when she died at Baptist Hospital in Kendall.
Columbus President Brother Kevin Handibode went so far as to call her “a saint.”
Bixby would surely shun the hosannas. Honors on her behalf — and they were significant — had to be planned on the sly.
“She was quite reserved in nature,” said Scott Paterna, a 1980 Columbus graduate, remembering Bixby’s quiet, modest manner.
Bixby’s role at the West Miami-Dade school was receptionist and administrative assistant. Her 12-hour days began at 4:30 a.m.
“What always struck me about Pat was her dedication to Columbus,” said Cristina Cruz, Columbus’ marketing director. “At an age when most people are retired, she arrived here at 4:30 every morning and worked diligently all day long just like the other full-time employees — and she was a volunteer.”
She would walk the entire Columbus campus several times, up and down the staircases, Cruz recalled.
“She always had so much energy.”
Bixby first came to Columbus as a receptionist in 1970 two years after son Michael graduated. She worked for a number of years. In 1980, Handibode asked her to return and volunteer. The school was expanding and starting a development office. No one but Bixby came to mind.
“I said it would be a few years. The few years turned into 33 years,” Handibode said.
“Any time I would try to give her some form of recognition, some mention at graduation, she wouldn’t talk to me for days. She never wanted any recognition.”
But Handibode was persistent. Bixby was the first woman to be inducted into the Columbus Hall of Fame.
She accepted graciously, just as she did when she was given a hush-hush secret retirement party in December 2012 when she finally left the school.
“She always had a warm and welcoming greeting for students, parents or visitors. Always helpful and kind,” said Jorge Ortega, class of 1981.
Her daughter Sandy suggests that Bixby’s modest demeanor was the result of her “Midwestern upbringing.”
“That’s probably where a lot of that came from.”
Bixby, who was born in Wisconsin, was married for 64 years to husband John, a director of communications for National Airlines. The couple raised their two children, Sandy and Michael, initially in Jacksonville. The family moved to Miami in 1964.
“She never wanted anything for herself and was always doing something for others,” Sandy Bixby said. Life at home mirrored the halls of Columbus.
“She didn’t like to have a fuss over birthdays. Doing stuff for us and our dad, that was her enjoyment. She enjoyed, very much, the kids there and she always enjoyed being around them, hearing all the kids’ stories.”
She is survived by her husband, two children, four grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. A funeral mass was held Wednesday at St. Brendan’s Catholic Church.
“As they walked the coffin out and the Celtic Song of Farewell was playing on the organ, light was shining through the main door at St. Brendan’s Church and everyone was silent,” Cruz said. “It felt as if an angel was going home.”