A Georgia teacher’s dying wish was for her family and friends to fill backpacks with school supplies for needy kids, and that’s exactly what they did.
As CNN reports, Tammy Waddell died on June 9 at the age of 58, after losing her battle with colon cancer. Two weeks before she died, she told her son that she didn’t want flowers at her funeral. Instead, she wanted mourners to bring backpacks full of school supplies for children in need.
Waddell spent the better part of four decades teaching public elementary schools in the Atlanta area, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. That career was capped off in 2003, when she won the Forsyth County Schools Elementary Teacher of the Year. She had “recently” retired, according to a district spokesperson, although it remains unclear when.
And in honor of her decades in the classroom, and to fulfill her dying wish, mourners did just what she asked. A photo from her funeral, which has since gone viral, shows the aisle of the church lined not with flowers, but with filled backpacks.
— Dr. Brad Johnson (@DrBradJohnson) June 16, 2018
And in another ceremonial act, about 100 teachers from the district acted as “honorary pallbearers,” according to BBC News, carrying the backpacks out of the church to be taken to needy children.
Honorary pallbearers… Teachers who had taught with her through the years… pic.twitter.com/CyB2pBbBNy
— Dr. Brad Johnson (@DrBradJohnson) June 19, 2018
According to Forsyth schools spokeswoman Jennifer Caracciolo, the filled backpacks were given to Project Connect, a project created by the district to provide donated supplies to needy kids.
“Tammy was a servant leader that loved children. The generous backpack/supplies donations in her memory is a touching tribute.”
According to a 2016 report in Education Week, poverty is a barrier towards kids getting an adequate education. After all, how can a child who is hungry concentrate on schoolwork? How can a child who is sick and lacks access to medical care complete her studies? And more to Ms. Waddell’s concern, how can a child whose parents can’t afford school supplies expect to keep up with his peers?
As for Ms. Waddell, an online obituary site is flooded with loving memories from colleagues who had the pleasure of working with her, and former students who had the pleasure of learning from her. Even strangers have reached out in response to her story.
“I never had the honor of meeting Tammy. However, I did read about her incredibly compassionate gesture. I am sure her colleagues and all the students who crossed paths with her are better people for having known her. She was a quiet, [unsung] hero. My thoughts are with all who loved her.”
The Forsyth County School District is accepting donations made in Waddell’s name.