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Hedrick teacher recalled as upbeat, fearless

As a high school student, Katie MacDiarmid set the bar high for future generations. As an outdoor adventurer, she pushed her limits. As an environmentalist, she pushed to preserve the nature in her backyard.

As a Hedrick Middle School science teacher, she combined those traits, inspiring both her students and fellow educators.

A vibrant and full-throttle life came to a tragic end Saturday, however, when the 31-year-old MacDiarmid and her boyfriend, Colin Bashant, died in a head-on crash in Northern California en route to a rock-climbing expedition in Bishop.

"She was an incredibly upbeat person who squeezed every drop out of life," said St. Mary's School teacher Hal Wing. "She was absolutely fearless as a rock climber, and was intellectually fearless about making teaching more student-centered. She was one of those people who made everyone else's life around her better."

When MacDiarmid joined the staff at Hedrick, she quickly bonded with her colleagues, including Mary Noble, a seventh-grade social studies teacher. Daily they met for lunch in a northwest corner nook on the upper floor.

"If I'd try to get some work done during lunch, she would poke her head in and say, 'C'mon we've got 28 minutes,' and pull me out."

MacDiarmid pounced on opportunities to take field trips to Crater Lake, Denman Wildlife Area and other spots where she could pass on her love for the outdoors.

"She took the kids to ScienceWorks, where there is a climbing wall," Noble said. "Some of the boys were trying to climb the rock wall and she just flew up past them. They were impressed, and it takes a lot to impress seventh-grade boys."

Sometimes she filled in for cross-country coach Travis Dick, running along with a pack of students on the city sidewalks.

"She always looked on the bright side of things," Dick said.

Last Thursday, ever the competitor, she jumped into a tug-of-war with the kids and hurt her back and knee. But she was determined to make the Christmas-break trip to California.

"She thought about not going but said Colin wouldn't be able to climb without her," Noble said. "She was worn out, but didn't want to ruin the trip. I texted Saturday and didn't hear back from her. She always texts back. It was unusual, but I just thought she was having fun or out of range."

MacDiarmid wrote a curriculum for outdoor education still used in Honduras, where she planned to return to share her skills next summer.

"She embodied what the profession of teaching is all about," said Noble, a 20-year teaching veteran. "I told her several times, 'You give me hope for this profession.' She could've done a lot of other things. She was bright, talented, super-smart and ambitious. I don't know what life is going to look like after Katie Mac, but it sure won't look as good as life with her."

MacDiarmid was named St. Mary's student of the year in 2003, before attending the University of Oregon, where she earned an environmental studies degree. She later earned a master's degree in education at Southern Oregon University.

"She epitomized the kind of person you want as a graduate," Wing said.

MacDiarmid was a four-time state speech and debate tournament participant for St. Mary's and was the program's all-time top scorer.

"There are lots of ways of measuring success, and by every measure she was," Wing said.

By the competitive nature of the discipline, speech and debate students tend to be in a world of their own, the debate coach said.

"In my experience, they frankly tended to be arrogant, out there and intimidating," Wing said. "But she was so soft-spoken and humble, you never saw her get up and say, 'I did this and did that.' "

The most telling moment in her debate career came after advancing in a tournament, when she learned that the judge was a St. Mary's graduate, potentially biasing the outcome. She and her partner asked for the round to be repeated and subsequently lost.

"Katie showed integrity beyond reproach," Wing said. "It was the proudest moment of my career."

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or business@mailtribune.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/GregMTBusiness, and read his blog at www.mailtribune.com/Economic Edge.

Katie MacDiarmid