CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (CBS19 NEWS) -- After a 40-year career, one high school music conductor is passing the baton.

And the job is staying in the family.

Acclaimed orchestra director Laura Mulligan Thomas is retiring after 40 years at Charlottesville High School.

"She had this vision of where we are now with eight students and she had the determination and perseverance to make that happen,” shared an orchestra student.

Before her last concert as the director on Wednesday night, students shared what makes Thomas so unique.

"She holds the highest expectation. She is an idealist but actually makes it happen. Which I think is amazing,” added another student.

Throughout her career, she's won multiple awards, including the American String Teachers Association's Elizabeth A. H. Green School Educator Award this year.

On Wednesday, she passed the torch, or in this case, the baton, to someone extra special. Thomas' daughter, Emily Thomas Waters, is taking over.

"It's really kind of a storybook situation. I can't think of a more qualified, skilled, creative, wonderful person to take over CHSO and that would be Emily Thomas Waters who came up through the program,” said Thomas.

While Waters couldn't attend the Wednesday concert in person, she still made it to the concert in spirit.

"We are performing a piece that my daughter wrote tonight, and she doesn't know it,” Thomas said.

With the closing of a 40-year career comes a lot of emotions, which Thomas says are bittersweet.

"That's my big goal tonight is to keep my emotions in check while we are performing and then as soon as we are done I am going to let loose," she said.

Thomas leaves a lasting legacy at CHS, but she has one specific message for students.

"I really hope that everyone keeps playing their instrument. That would be the most gratifying thing for me if they would take the seeds that they learned here at Charlottesville High and go on and spread it in their community,” Thomas said.