Fordham Teacher Killed Outside McDonald's Devoted to Students, Friends Say

By Julie Shapiro and Chelsia Rose Marcius  on June 1, 2012 4:00pm

MARINE PARK — The Brooklyn woman who was killed when a minivan crashed into a Flatbush Avenue McDonald's Thursday was remembered Friday as a hardworking teacher who was devoted to her family, students and pets.

Phyllis Pitt, 64, a grandmother and veteran teacher, was studying for her doctorate at Fordham University's Graduate School of Education, neighbors and the school said. At Fordham, she was also an adjunct instructor and supervised students who were just learning how to teach, the school said. She spent much of her career teaching in both public schools and Brooklyn yeshivas, the school said.

Rita Brause, associate dean and professor at Fordham's Graduate School of Education, described Pitt as a "dedicated teacher" and "promising researcher."

"She was especially interested in meeting the needs of very young children with disabilities," Brause said in a statement. "Those who knew her admired her constant thirst for learning, her caring concern for others and her quiet graciousness. Phyllis’ students noted that she often spoke lovingly of her grandchildren. Her death has already created an immense vacuum."

Pitt was walking past the McDonald's at 2240 Flatbush Ave. Thursday afternoon when a 75-year-old woman who was trying to parallel park lost control of her Nissan Quest and reversed onto the sidewalk, pinning Pitt against the McDonald's and crashing through the restaurant's front windows, police said.

Pitt was rushed to Beth Israel Medical Center and was declared dead, police said. The driver remained at the scene of the accident and was not charged.

Pitt lived just a few blocks from the McDonald's, on tree-lined Ryder Street.

Pitt's grieving husband and son declined to speak to a reporter at the family's home Friday.

"They were a typical Brooklyn family, very hardworking," a longtime neighbor said of Pitt and her husband, and adult son and daughter. "She was an animal lover. She had several cats and dogs."

Marshall George, professor and chairman of the Fordham Graduate School of Education's curriculum and teaching division, said Pitt had finished her doctoral coursework and planned to complete her dissertation on how to help very young children with special needs by next spring.

"She educated me so much about learning," George said of Pitt, who had a long career in education. "Even though I was the teacher and she was the student, I was learning from her."

George said he and his colleagues were shocked by Pitt's sudden death.

"It's a significant loss to our academic community," he said.

State Assemblyman Alan Maisel, a neighbor of the Pitts, stopped by the house Friday morning to pay his respects.  

"I just heard about it in the hardware store 15 minutes ago," Maisel said of the accident. "It's a terrible tragedy. You leave your house during the day and you don't know if you're going to come back."

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