Local Obituaries

Inspiring special needs teacher Deborah Sunshine dies at 64

Deborah Sunshine taught special needs children in Miami-Dade’s elementary school system from 1973 to 2014.
Deborah Sunshine taught special needs children in Miami-Dade’s elementary school system from 1973 to 2014.

Deborah Ann Sunshine came by her surname thanks to her husband, retired CBS investigative reporter Al Sunshine. But, oh, did it fit her.

Sunshine, who died Sept. 27 at age 64 following complications from a surgery, was a special education teacher in Miami-Dade with a passion for the children and their families, her husband said.

“No matter what the problem, she found the ‘bright spots’ in all of them,” he said in an email to the Miami Herald.

She once had a student with a “Pica Eating Disorder,’ who tried to eat everything in the classroom, including pencils and erasers. She kept special watch, making sure only non-toxic materials were nearby.

As more students with autism entered schools, her classes swelled and she advocated for more resources and funds for them and their families.

As students began to be mainstreamed into regular, often crowded classrooms, she grew concerned over how they would fare, away from her personal touch.

She worked with the students that other teachers couldn’t reach, and enjoyed their special one on one relationships in Miami-Dade classrooms.

TV journalist Al Sunshine on his wife, schoolteacher Deborah Sunshine.

“She loved working one on one with them and sharing their small gains which, in many cases, were monumental considering their disabilities,” her husband said.

Sunshine was born Jan. 24, 1952, in Brooklyn and raised in Queens. One of the highlights of her early life: Attending Woodstock in the summer of 1969. Right after going to the music festival, Sunshine went to the University of Miami and studied education.

After graduation, she took on her first job in 1973, at the former Dade Demonstration Elementary School off Southwest 37th Avenue just outside Coral Gables. From there, Sunshine taught at numerous elementary schools, including Douglas Elementary in Coconut Grove and Caribbean Elementary in South Miami-Dade, shortly before it was destroyed by Hurricane Andrew in August 1992. She, too, lost her family home to Andrew.

More recently, Sunshine taught at Pinecrest and Palmetto elementary schools and mentored college education interns to carry on her work. “She was tireless in supporting them professionally and guiding their careers,” her husband said. She retired in 2014.

Al Sunshine was best known for his “Shame On You” investigative reports for WFOR CBS4, which exposed businesses, agencies and individuals that he felt defrauded or deceived consumers. The features, in a 40-year career, made him a household name through his retirement from the station in 2013. He gives much credit to his wife of 44 years for giving him the stability to do his work.

“She was my foundation as I covered South Florida,” he said, citing a journalist’s work schedule that included nights, weekends and holidays and her daily teaching job, while raising the couple’s two daughters, Melissa and Stephanie.

“For the first few years of our marriage we never had the same days off,” he said. “The best testimony of her career was hearing from her former students who she helped through rough times in school. That’s her proud legacy that will not soon be forgotten.”

A memorial was held. Donations in Sunshine’s name can be made to the American Cancer Society and the Humane Society of Greater Miami.

Howard Cohen: 305-376-3619, @HowardCohen