A love of teaching in regional areas and life experience of family with disability led Warrnambool's Merri River principal Robert Dowell to find the right job.
Mr Dowell's youngest brother David had encephalitis as a baby, leading to severe disabilities in an era where opportunities didn't exist for him to attend school.
The boys' mother Thelma worked on a solution, establishing a child minding centre in Melbourne's Doncaster, still a day training centre for adults with disability today.
But Mr Dowell and wife Debbie always wanted to teach in small rural schools, so he left Melbourne for a role at Codrington Primary School, and Debbie taught at Bessiebelle.
"I really wanted to teach in a little one-teacher rural school, and it was just great," Mr Dowell said.
"The community out there was fabulous and we are still friends with a lot of those Codrington people."
On Friday, Mr Dowell retired after 46 years in education. Twenty-nine of those years were at the Warrnambool Special Developmental School, now Merri River School.
Mr Dowell had moved into a special education unit at Warrnambool East Primary before the city had a special developmental school. He joined the teaching staff of the special developmental school in 1993 after it moved from Moore Street to Hyland Street.
"Even in my lifetime I have seen a huge change in community expectations," he said.
He's now taught more than 500 students, most of them with disabilities, and said he treasured moments when students reached their full potential in the community.
"I have over the years seen many wonderful stories. Stories of students who have come to this school and been struggling and just blossomed," Mr Dowell said.
He oversaw the school moving from its Hyland Street site, where students learned in portable classrooms, to a purpose-built school at Wollaston Road last year.
Parents and students farewelled Mr Dowell in a socially distanced way by driving past the school on Friday. In retirement, Mr Dowell said he would be taking stock in his Port Fairy home, gardening and remaining active in the community.
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