Mary Emily Porter was a longtime teacher in Apalachicola and a memorable character around town. She was the daughter of Richard G. Porter and Steppie Rice. Through her parents she was related to two of the old families of Apalachicola. She had two older brothers, Richard G. Porter, Jr. and Ned Porter.
She was born on Jan. 10, 1908. She graduated from Chapman High School and attended Florida State College for Women in Tallahassee, where she earned a master’s degree in education. She became a teacher. In the 1940 census she was teaching at Greensboro in Gadsden County, and eventually started a long career teaching civics and history to the students at Chapman School, located at the corner of 12th Street and Avenue D. Her mother had previously been a teacher and principal at the Chapman School.
Familiarly known to her students as Miss Po, she was considered an excellent teacher. She believed in the value of education and had little use for children who did not take advantage of the opportunities that an education offered. She was a walking font of Apalachicola history and stressed the history of the town to her students. She would lecture without notes on the history of Apalachicola, speaking of Dr. A. W. Chapman and Dr. John Gorrie. Her classes would take field trips to Magnolia Cemetery to look at the trees Dr. Chapman did grafting experiments on.
Although she was a good teacher her former students remember that it was easy to get her sidetracked. If they just asked her about some item of Apalachicola history, she would happily abandon her lesson for the day and spend the entire class telling the students about the history of the town and the people living here.
With her two grandfathers both being Confederate veterans, Miss Po was an active member of the United Daughters of the Confederacy. Every year at the end of April, the UDC would have a program at the school for Confederate Memorial Day. There would be speeches and music. At the end of the program Miss Po would take the students down to Chestnut Cemetery to place flags on the graves of all the Civil War veterans buried there: Confederate flags on the graves of the Southern veterans and U. S. Flags on the graves of the Union veterans.
Miss Po was the senior class sponsor and homeroom teacher. She would host parties for the senior class at her home at 127 Avenue B. One tradition was to hold sleepovers for the senior class girls. She stopped doing this after the sleepover for the girls of the class of 1960. That year, after the high school boys got so rowdy trying to sneak in to Miss Po’s house by climbing on the roof and other subterfuges, she cancelled all future sleepovers.
As a teacher she had her favorite students. If you were one of her pets you had it made in her class. She sometimes sent a pet on an errand during school, letting them use her car. Because of her small stature, some of the senior boys would amuse themselves by picking her up and hauling her down the hall in fun. She would laugh and swat them with her purse. She always carried a huge purse on her arm.
A tiny woman, her students towered over her. She stood less than five feet tall. When she drove her Ford around town, she had to sit on a pillow just to be able to see through the steering wheel. She needed a pillow behind her back to push her to the front of the seat so she could reach the pedals. Her driving skills were terrible. Everyone in town, both drivers and pedestrians knew her car by sight. Whenever they would see her coming they knew to get out of the way and give her a wide berth. Zigzagging down the street, she would clear off the sidewalk downtown by jumping the curb trying to park, but she seemed oblivious to her lack of driving ability.
She loved music and had a large collection of records. She also loved to play bridge. Every week she would play bridge with a group of women.
Miss Po retired from teaching after the 1967-68 school year. In her later years she closed off the upper story of her house and just lived in the downstairs. She died on Friday, Nov. 4, 1983 at the nursing home in Apalachicola. She is buried beside her parents and brothers in Magnolia Cemetery.