Michelle Wexler, 28: Teacher of the Year’s strength inspired many

Just keep swimming.

That was the mantra Michelle Wexler took up during her nearly six-month battle with cancer, encouraging herself and others to press on through life’s struggles with strength and a dose of good humor.

Wexler, named Teacher of the Year for Mimosa Elementary and for the greater Fulton County Northwest Learning Community in February, inspired many with her positive attitude and her warm, winning spirit.

People turned out in droves Monday to pay tribute to Wexler, packing two services. Among the mourners was a group of Wexler’s closest girlfriends, each wrapped in one of Wexler’s much-loved scarves and wearing a Disney “Finding Nemo” pin printed with Wexler’s mantra.

“I knew she was beautiful inside and out, but we had this memorial and I met so many people I didn’t even know she had come in contact with,” said Wexler’s mother, Wanda Wexler of Marietta. “So many people have told me how much she meant to them.”

Michelle Wexler of Dunwoody died Dec. 6. She was 28 and had been diagnosed with uterine sarcoma. The family held a funeral at 10 a.m. Monday at Roswell Funeral Home and a memorial service at 6 p.m. the same day at Unity North Atlanta Church in Marietta. Roswell Funeral Home was in charge of arrangements.

Wexler, who was raised in Marietta, always knew she wanted to be a teacher. When she was a girl, she would line up her dolls in rows on the family’s stairway and give them little lessons, her mother said.

She graduated from Lassiter High School in 2003 and earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in education from the University of Georgia. While undergoing chemotherapy, Wexler finished her specialization in early childhood education from Kennesaw State. Some of her professors presented Wexler’s diploma to her mother at her memorial service.

“Michelle was an exceptional teacher, and I don’t say that lightly,” said Lynn Johnson, principal of Mimosa Elementary. She said Wexler built a community of learning in her classroom that involved and inspired each of her second-grade students. “Our children will always be better because they had Michelle. They have this foundation of a love of learning.”

She enjoyed dancing and Broadway, and she sought to find the positive and the humor in any situation. When faced with a problem, such as running out of gas or booking a bad hotel room on a trip with friends, Wexler just laughed her distinctive, infectious giggle.

“Even before she got sick, she celebrated laughter,” said lifelong friend Lauren Holtz of Atlanta. “She knew that there was a purpose to be had in this lifetime and she lived it. She really believed she was put on this earth to do something good.”

Wexler's family has established a "Just Keep Swimming" fund in her name.

“We want to keep the memory of her alive and the message of her impact on people’s lives,” said Stephanie Booker of Los Angeles, Wexler’s college sorority sister. Once the family’s medical bills are provided for, the family will donate the proceeds to sarcoma research. “It’s the best way to honor her memory.”

In addition to her mother, Wexler is survived by her father, Eddie Wexler of Marietta; her brother, David Wexler of Buckhead; and her grandmother, Margie Whitmore of Oxford, Ala.