When teacher Tammy Waddell knew that her cancer would ultimately take her life, she made a powerful request: In lieu of flowers at her funeral, she wanted backpacks filled with school supplies to be donated to kids who may need them.
Waddell’s cousin, Dr. Brad Johnson, describes her as a “teacher to the end” and tells Babble that she “truly loved and cared for her students.”
“She always smiled, always showed them she cared, and she was their favorite teacher,” Johnson says. “She was ready to give a hug to a student in need, just like she was ready to give supplies to a student in need.”
Johnson tweeted a photo from the funeral that shows backpacks next to the pews in the church, as well as near the podium — and the image is a moving display of how well Waddell’s message of giving was received and answered by her community and all of those who loved her.
According to Johnson, Waddell taught elementary grade students in Forsyth County, Georgia for over 25 years.
“She found out several months ago that she had cancer again for the second time,” says Johnson. “She had beaten it several years before.”
Complications arose, and when Waddell realized that her time would be short, she told her family that she wanted her last lesson for her students to be about the importance of giving and that she would rather have donations instead of flowers at her funeral.
“Her final lesson was for us to be of service to others,” says Johnson.
Waddell’s impact was felt not only by her students but by the many teachers who she came into contact through over the years. These teachers were her honorary pallbearers, and they formed a long line — with donated backpacks in front of them — that led to the hearse after the service.
Since the funeral, Johnson’s tweet has resonated with thousands and prompted many more to donate backpacks and supplies.
“There has been an outpouring of support for her last request with backpacks being sent from as far as the U.K.,” Johnson tells Babble.
As an educator himself, Johnson says that he believes the donations are continuing because his cousin’s story “touches the soul of humanity.”
“She has inspired many people, including myself,” says Johnson. “I admired how she worked her way through school while she had a family and this encouraged me to accomplish all that I have.”
Today, Johnson is the author of the book, Putting Teachers First. He says Waddell also inspired her son and two daughters-in-law to follow in her footsteps and become teachers.
Waddell’s legacy will live on in all of those who knew and loved her — not to mention the thousands of people who will hear her story, and be inspired. Her impact will not be forgotten.