THE BOYS sauntering along a West Philadelphia street might have looked cocky and tough, but if Pauline Harper came into view, they melted.

They knew "Miz Harper" as the noontime aide at their school, and one thing they knew for sure, she loved them.

Maybe a tough kid can't talk much about love, but in their deepest beings the young men knew that Miz Harper loved them because that was what she was all about.

"She loved working with kids," said her daughter Denise Harper-McCall. "She believed they were God's precious cargo."

Pauline Harper, who served part time as a teacher's aide at three Philadelphia public schools, an active churchwoman and devoted family matriarch, died Saturday of natural causes. She was 86 and was living in Tallahassee, Fla., but had lived most of her life in West Philadelphia.

Pauline served as a part-time teacher's aide, also known as a noontime aide, at the Overbrook Educational Center and the Lewis C. Cassidy and Guion S. Bluford schools. She read to the students, kept an eye on them at recess and lunchtime, and otherwise helped the teachers.

But mostly, Pauline Harper was a loving guide, helping the students prepare for life. She was always there for them, and they knew it.

Pauline refused to believe there was such a thing as a bad kid. "All they needed was love," she would say. "They needed someone to show them love and they responded with love."

She retired in 1998 after suffering a stroke.

"She was kind, wise and very thoughtful," said Denise, a graphic artist for the Daily News. "She was attentive to other people's problems. You felt like she really understood you. She helped you make the right decisions, always in a gentle way, never overbearing.

"She would call me and my siblings and when we answered, she would sing the Stevie Wonder song, 'I Just Called to Say I Love You.' "

Pauline was famous in the family for her sense of humor and her pithy sayings, including "Thank God for life," "Stand for something or you'll fall for anything," "Bring it on down front," and "Get outta Dodge."

Pauline was a longtime member of Vine Memorial Baptist Church, where she was a deaconess, taught Sunday school and vacation Bible school, and was a member of the Missionary Circle. She received a number of honors from the church, including Mother of the Year.

Pauline was born in Philadelphia the ninth of the 13 children of Henry and Lillie Mae Thomas. She graduated from West Philadelphia High School.

At age 13 she worked as a candy striper at Presbyterian Hospital, taking treats to patients.

She married Artis Harper in 1946. He operated a sign business and put up many of the signs along Lancaster Avenue in West Philadelphia. He died in 1984.

Besides her daughter, she is survived by another daughter, Patricia Jerome; two sons, twins Mark and Michael Harper; 10 grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren.

Services: 11 a.m. Friday at Vine Memorial Baptist Church, 5600 W. Girard Ave. Friends may call at 10 a.m. Burial will be at Fernwood Cemetery.