Joanne Seaman—School Nurse, Champion Hugger—Retires After 26 Years


Walking inside the corridors of the Manchester Memorial Elementary School, wearing a lilac shirt, white pants, and a nurse’s badge, Joanne Seaman, RN, heads to her office, feeling nostalgic.  After 26 years with the school district, Seaman retires at the end of this month.

“I am blessed, as not many go to work every day and love their job.  Even on my hardest days, I love my job,” she said.  “How can you say goodbye to the people that you love?”

The 69-year-old has been a nurse for 49 years (“and I’m only 50 years old … it’s a miracle!” she jokes), with most of those years serving kids in a school environment. 

Early on, Seaman worked for Governor’s Academy and at the Triton School District, working with special needs students.  There, she worked with Jack Billings, who would become the principal of Manchester Memorial.  When Memorial was seeking its very first exclusive elementary school nurse in the late 1990s and advertised the position in the local newspaper, she jumped.  It was before school regionalization with Essex, and long before the school district built a new, $56 million Memorial School building.  Seaman took the job, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Today, Joanne says she felt nervous on her first day.  She didn’t know anyone, and wasn’t sure what to expect. 

But as days went on, Joanne said she felt like she found the missing piece of her “puzzle.”  The students, teachers, and parents started to feel like a family.

“From the moment that I started here, it felt like home,” she continued to say.  “To the point where I moved here.”

“Superhero Nurse”

Those who know Joanne Seaman will tell you her most important tools are her welcoming arms.  Joanne Seaman is known, far and wide, as a champion hugger.  In fact, no matter where she is—her spacious nurse’s office, or at the front office, or in the cafeteria visiting the after-school program—she is like honey and students are like bees.  They flock to her to get hugs.  And she gives them.  Constantly.

When this champion hugger started at Memorial, the nurse’s office barely had room enough for a nurse’s table and sometimes, Joanne would have to use space in the adjoining bathroom, sitting on the toilet to dress and care for the child.  And the technology at the time was a pencil and paper. 

But she didn’t mind.  She enjoyed looking after the young students.  “I considered them my family,” she said.

From her sparse clinical “office” Seaman addressed everything.  There were serious incidents like a broken leg, or mental health and family challenges.  There were less serious incidents like homesickness.  But they were all greeted with care and professionalism.

“I saw every child as my own and I knew who to call, in case anybody got hurt.  I mean, I am a parent as well, I too would want to be called for any details regarding my child’s wellbeing,” she added.

Today, she has a spacious office, with all the necessities and technologies.  Generational gifts from pupils and parents surround her.  There are pictures with the kids, drawings from the little artists, and signs and coffee mugs with phrases of love and appreciation.  All for her.  A favorite sits above on an overhead cabinet, and reads, “I’m a nurse, what’s your superpower?”

Making a difference

“Joanne Seaman is not just a person or a name—she is a feeling,” said Heather DePriest, Manchester Parks & Recreation Program Director who has worked with Mrs. Seaman for more than two decades.  “Joanne can fix all of us and she has for many years.  Memorial School will move on, and she will be replaced but her time at Memorial will be treasured deep in all of our hearts.”

This is typical of anyone who knows or has worked with Joanne Seaman.  After nearly 30 years, Joanne sees parents today in their 30s who were once her students that, today, entrust her with their kids. 

Joanne finds it beautiful that in this small community, she has been able to put a smile on people’s faces and make their day.   

“Not too many jobs affect people’s lives. The greatest gift that you can give to somebody is to touch their life. It’s a feeling that you never forget,” the “super nurse” expressed while getting emotional.

As a superhero nurse, Joanne’s impact has gone far beyond tending to a knee scratch or a simple headache.

“Joanne was our three girls’ second parent, both in and out of Memorial School, for many years,” said Cynthia Franklin, whose daughters were at Memorial School in the mid-2000s. “She even inspired our oldest daughter, Mara, to become a nurse!”

For Lindsay Banks, a current parent of a student cared for Mrs. Seaman, the sentiment is identical to Franklin’s.

“Joanne’s love and care for the kids has been a foundational part of our family’s experience at Memorial School,” she said.  “The children and families know that they can count on her unconditional love and support through some of the most stressful times -- when kids are sick or need medical attention. (not to mention during COVID!)  She did so many things in and out of the nurse’s office to support our kids and our school community.”

Time to rest

When it came to planning her retirement, Seaman left nothing to chance.  Recalling the decision last year, Joanne said it was her daughter who convinced her to slow down, and enjoy her four grandchildren and family time. 

“My daughter told me “Mom, you’re 70 now and we need you”,” she remarked.

By October 2023, Joanne started working on her resignation letter.  The moment the letter was finished, she stood in front of Memorial School Principal John Willis and realized just how hard it would be to say goodbye.  She didn’t realize just how hard it would be for her Memorial School family to say goodbye to her.

“When you think of all of the beautiful things that make Cape Ann special, one that has stood out for the past 26 years in Manchester-by-the-Sea is Joanne Seaman,” said Willis.  “Joanne is an incredible human being who exemplifies care, compassion, selflessness, and love.  Generations of students, families, and staff members have been fortunate to have been cared for by her over the years. We are all fortunate to have her in our professional and personal lives!”

Joanne Seaman may be retiring from her role at MERSD, but she won’t be gone.  After all, she and her husband, Al, have lived in Manchester since 2013.  Her “family” of former students, parents, and colleagues will surely see her—downtown at Crosby’s or somewhere else—and be able to enjoy that all-too-familiar hug from their “superhero nurse.”