Even high school students who couldn’t tell a polynomial from a polar bear liked having Virginia Lee Pratt as their math teacher — she was that capable of kindling something resembling enthusiasm for an often unloved subject.
And that successful.
Over 41 years, she built the math department at Omaha’s Central High School into a juggernaut, turning out teams of students that won state math competitions year after year — for at least 10 straight years in the 1960s and ’70s. By the time she retired in 1982 she was head of the department, was known nationally among math instructors, had introduced computers into the classroom and was accustomed to long-ago students stopping her on the street to thank her, according to her family and friends.
“I know this sounds over the top, but she was just almost the perfect teacher,” said Gaylord “Doc” Moller, her principal for almost two decades. “And such a lady. Everybody liked her.”
Virginia Lee Pratt — never just “Virginia Pratt” — died Sept. 4 in Omaha. She was 96.
Which means, as any of her math students could tell you, that she was born in 1919 — on April 27, to be exact. She graduated from Central in 1937, was voted “Miss Central” by her fellow students and then earned a degree from Randolph-Macon Woman’s College in Lynchburg, Virginia, before returning to her high school to teach.
Aside from a couple of years when she shifted to Benson High, Pratt taught at Central for the next 41 years. She won a number of teaching honors, including the Alice Buffett Outstanding Lifetime Teacher Award and a year’s fellowship to study at Columbia University in New York. She was inducted into Central’s Hall of Fame in 2001.
“It’s hard to walk around town without someone wanting to tell you how wonderful she was,” said her nephew Roderic Anderson of Omaha.
Upon her death, tributes from former students began appearing on the Central High Foundation’s Facebook page: “One of the most passionate, dedicated and intelligent teachers ever seen at CHS.” “One of the best teachers I ever had at any level.” “So patient with me even though I never quite got math.”
Don Nogg, a 1947 Central grad, recalled Pratt as a good teacher who pushed him to competency in freshman geometry and sophomore algebra. “But she was also a really nice person,” taking time to chat with him years later when he, having taken a retirement job delivering flowers, made stops at the Crown Pointe retirement home where she was living.
Pratt, who never married, loved to travel in the summers, around the United States and Europe, Anderson said, and took her five young nephews on trips to New York City and the Grand Canyon.
Her survivors include the four other Anderson nephews, Rick, Scot, Bruce and Peter Chris, and numerous great- and great-great-nieces and nephews.
A memorial service is planned Oct. 10 at Countryside Community Church, 8787 Pacific St.
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