Arriving at the luncheon of the John Muir High School Faculty and Staff Alumni Association, Nettie Piggee had no idea she was walking into a trap. The recently-retired security specialist beloved at Muir for her indefatigable energy and no-nonsense mother love was happily shocked to discover that dozens of former colleagues had crowded into a dining room at Beckham Place to salute her for over three decades of service to the storied high school on Lincoln Avenue. "It's a joy! This is just like old times! It's just beautiful!" Piggee gushed between hugs and kisses with old friends.
For 35 years, until her retirement last June, the ageless "Miss Nettie" was a fixture at Muir. Tall and slender with a high, raspy voice that soared forcefully from one end of the school to the other (even penetrating concrete walls, according to stage manager Larry Tharp) Nettie Piggee was as definitive of Muir as the revered M Quad and the aqua tiled arches of the Rufus Mead Auditorium. Officially, she was there to protect the school from intruders and to quell conflicts between students, but coworkers at the alumni luncheon said Piggee was much more than a campus cop.
"When you came to Muir we had security but it wasn't security. There was a loving way about it," said retired choral music teacher Marguerite Hougasian. "The kids knew that she cared and the other people that worked with her took a page out of her book and reacted in that way."
Chuck Malouf, who taught business and coached basketball during his 38 years at Muir, added, "If there was anybody who was concerned about the education of the students it was Nettie. She was always yelling, 'Go to class! Go to class!' She knows the kids, the parents, the grandparents."
Colleagues marveled at Piggee's ability to connect with students. She addressed kids by name or called them "baby" or "sugar." She praised their accomplishments and admonished them if their behavior fell short of potential. "These were my
children," Miss Nettie declared. "I stepped into those roles when they were away from their parents just to make sure that they felt secure and knew that someone was there to back them up if they had any types of problems." Her maternal approach earned Piggee the affection, respect and trust of Muir students, enabling her to defuse problems before they escalated. In a letter read aloud at the faculty alumni luncheon, former dean Jim Storms recalled how Piggee responded to a report of a student who had smuggled a gun to school. Storms wrote: "Nettie said she knew the boy. 'Let me go by myself and bring him back to the office.'"
Miss Nettie was saluted for making everyone who came to Muir feel special. In a hi keynote speech at the luncheon, Pasadena superintendent of schools Edwin Diaz said, "Just walking up to those doors and hearing her yelling through the halls, 'Superintendent in the house!' brought a real joy to my heart."
Former counselor Eddie Newman remembered how Piggee kept her fired up when she returned to Muir as principal in the mid 1990s. "Nettie had my front, my back and both sides! Whenever there was a need she'd say, 'Come on, Mrs. Newman! You know we can do this!'"
Current principal, Cheryl Orange, found similar solace under Nettie's wing when she arrived at Muir three years ago. "My first day on the job I said, 'Miss Nettie, I'm not sure I can do this," Orange recalled. "But she said, 'Sugar, don't worry. Just follow me around 'til you don't need me anymore!'"
So strong was her dedication that Piggee rarely took a lunch break and never once called in sick during her 35 year career. Retired dean Larry Cash remembered how she refused to go home one day despite being extremely ill. "She'd say, 'I just need to sit down for a minute.' I said, 'Nettie, you need to go home!'" recounted Cash. "We actually had to force her to go home and she cried!"
Cash's anecdote brought knowing laughter from the luncheon attendees, but the guest of honor said she had just been doing her job. Miss Nettie explained, "That's the relationship you're supposed to have. You're supposed to be there to serve and I have enjoyed serving."
But if you think retirement's going to slow Miss Nettie down, think again! She's taking a break to get medical treatment on her knee but she looks forward to returning to Muir as a campus volunteer. Piggee proclaims, "As soon as I get my knee done I'm going to be right back down there!"