Much-loved Seattle Catholic school teacher killed in boating collision

Melissa Protz is remembered as a dynamic science teacher at Assumption-St.Bridget

 Melissa Protz and her dog
Melissa Protz loved the outdoors and her Australian shepherd, Boaty. Photo: Courtesy Assumption-St. Bridget School


By Anna Weaver

Members of the Assumption-St. Bridget School community filled Assumption Church in Ravenna on July 17 during an evening prayer vigil for a much-loved teacher killed in a boating accident, the school’s principal said.

Melissa Protz, 33, had been the school’s sixth- and seventh-grade science teacher for the last two years. She died on July 16 after the sailboat she was riding in on Lake Washington collided with a speedboat.

The speedboat’s driver has been charged with homicide by motorcraft and the involvement of alcohol is being investigated, the Seattle Police Department reported.

“She was a very dynamic and impactful teacher,” principal Christina McGill said, and one with high expectations for her students. “[They] found a love of science through her and her level of enthusiasm. She loved what she did and she brought that to her classroom.”

McGill said that fellow faculty and staff also loved the energy Protz brought to the teaching staff. The entire Assumption-St. Bridget school community had been notified by email on July 18 of the teacher’s death.

Protz was originally from Wisconsin but had many cousins living in the Seattle area, McGill said, adding that about 30 family members were among those at the Thursday evening service.

“The support and just the outpouring and care and love and concern that the community showed was moving,” McGill said. “I know that Melissa’s family, from talking to them, were quite stunned at that outpouring. And that was the whole impact that she had made on so many people.”

 Boys with Prozt messages on their backs
During a July 17 swim meet, several Assumption-St. Bridget School sixth grade boys wrote #Swim4Protz on their backs in honor of their late teacher, Melissa Protz. The boys dedicated the meet to Protz and ended up beating a long-undefeated team, said school principal Christina McGill. Photo: Courtesy Assumption-St. Bridget School

At the vigil, St. Bridget’s pastor, Father Stephen Okumu, focused his homily on not taking life for granted. He encouraged those in attendance to focus on Jesus as “the way, the truth and the life” to guide their lives.

“[Melissa] left at a very early age when she still had a lot to offer,” he told Northwest Catholic.

Father Okumu arrived at St. Bridget around the same time that Protz started teaching at the parish school. He said they both bonded over their mutual affection for Wisconsin, which Father Okumu has loved since the 1990s when two Wisconsin exchange students stayed with his family in his home country of Kenya.

He described Protz as friendly, easy to connect with and passionate about her job. “She loved [science] and she wanted to make kids love science subjects too,” he said. “She made it very easy for kids to learn.”

The last time Father Okumu spoke with Protz was at Assumption-St. Bridget’s eighth grade graduation on June 4. “She was full of life as always,” he said, and wanted to have him over for dinner to talk with one of her cousins who was interested in traveling to Africa.

Protz earned a bachelor’s degree in marine biology from James Cook University in Queensland, Australia, and a master’s degree in teaching from Seattle University, according to her Assumption-St. Bridget website biography. She was a biology student teacher at Bishop Blanchet High School in Seattle before coming to Assumption-St. Bridget in 2012.

“I have worked in the science field for many years and realized through those experiences that the best part of my job is sharing the passion I have for the world of science to others,” Protz wrote in her school bio. “Seeing the excitement in my students' eyes when they finally understand how amazing and important science is and how it is so connected to their lives is such a wonderful moment.”

She listed hiking, camping, scuba diving, sailing, skiing and traveling as interests. McGill said Protz frequently attended Mass at St. Joseph Parish in Capitol Hill.

July 18, 2014

Anna Weaver

Anna Weaver was the multimedia, online and social media editor, and writer for Northwest Catholic from 2013-2018.