'This was just the kind of teacher she was, and this is a reflection of her heart. She was a teacher first, all the way,' the teacher's cousin, a fellow educator, remarked.
Editor's note: This article was originally published on April 5, 2021. It has since been updated.
A Georgia teacher's funeral saw all her loved ones turn up with backpacks filled with school supplies. It was Tammy Waddell's final wish that those who come to pay their respects to her bring school supplies for needy students. The incredibly moving gesture has gone viral on the internet. Waddell died on June 9, 2018, succumbing to stomach cancer. As instructed by the 58-year-old, her obituary suggested that in lieu of flowers, donations be made in her memory to Project Connect, a local program that provides backpacks to needy students, reported Good Morning America. Waddell taught at Sawnee Elementary & Primary Schools, Cumming Elementary School, and Haw Creek Elementary School.
"Tammy had a passion for literacy and believed that every child deserved an opportunity to learn. Though her achievements and accolades are numerous, none are greater than the many lives that she changed over the course of her three decades in education. In lieu of flowers, please bring backpacks filled with school supplies to honor Tammy's passion for children in need or make a donation in memory of Tammy Waddell to Project Connect," read the obituary.
Honorary pallbearers... Teachers who had taught with her through the years... pic.twitter.com/CyB2pBbBNy— 𝐁𝐫𝐚𝐝 𝐉𝐨𝐡𝐧𝐬𝐨𝐧 (@DrBradJohnson) June 19, 2018
The moving images of backpackers lined up at church pews have sparked a flood of positive messages online. It was Waddell's cousin, Brad Johnson, who tweeted the images. Johnson, who's a fellow educator, said she was the kind of person who always looked out for her students. "This was just the kind of teacher she was, and this is a reflection of her heart. She was a teacher first, all the way,” Johnson told CNN. "She was very inspirational in me achieving all that I have. She was as quick to give a hug as she was quick to give supplies to students who needed it," added Johnson. Waddell had worked in Forsyth County Schools in Georgia for 30 years. She was also named the county elementary school teacher of the year in 2003. Tes Resources, a non-profit organization that helps teachers around the world, approached Johnson to honor Waddell. The nonprofit told him they wanted to send in a donation of thousands of school supplies for Forsyth County students.
Kevin Waddell, her son, said it was no surprise to see her final wish is centered on helping students. "Part of what I loved about my mom was the passion she had as a teacher. It's one of the inspirations that led me to the profession," said Waddell, who's also a teacher. The images of the backpacks at her funeral have spurred people from far as Britain to offer to send backpacks in honor of her. "She lived life by loving others and she was never worried about attention … she was just focused on the love," said Kevin, who urged people to contribute to their local schools. "The message she would try and deliver at this point is to donate to your local schools. It doesn't have to be here specifically." Johnson tweet received thousands of retweets and heartwarming replies from users.
“That day we received roughly about 130 backpacks filled with school supplies – anything a student would need for at least half of the school year – and they continue to come in,” said Paul Holbrook, a spokesman for the funeral home. "Tammy was a servant leader that loved children. The generous backpack/supplies donations in her memory is a touching tribute,” said Forsyth schools spokeswoman Jennifer Caracciolo, according to AJC. "Even in death, she's still teaching every one of us," said Johnson. Waddell is also survived by a husband of 41 years, another son, B J Waddell, and four grandchildren.