Tammy Waddell was a much-loved woman who dedicated the majority of her adult life to teaching children. She had two sons and four grandchildren and was married to her husband for more than four decades.
Waddell was an avid bookworm who enjoyed exploring the great outdoors and being among her family. However, teaching was her primary passion. She educated the kids of Forsyth County, Georgia, for three decades.
Waddell was a beloved member of staff during her time serving the likes of Cumming Elementary School, Haw Creek Elementary School and Sawnee Elementary & Primary Schools. Her devotion to education led to her receiving the Forsyth County Schools Elementary Teacher of the Year award in 2003.
The National Board Certified Teacher wasn’t only respected for being great at her job, though. Waddell was also well-known for her good heart and the tremendous enjoyment she garnered from spending time with her classes. As a result, she was an inspiration for teachers throughout the district and beyond.
Sadly, though, Waddell spent the latter part of her life fighting against colon cancer. She had overcome the condition once, in fact. However, in August 2018 the disease returned. And this time, Waddell was informed that she wouldn’t be able to beat it.
A fortnight prior to her death, she made a final request to one of her sons. Rather than have people buying flowers for her funeral, she asked that they donate to Project Connect, a charity that supplies school materials for deprived students.
This seemed to be a typical display of the selflessness and dedication to youngsters that Waddell had become known for over the years. Moreover, the request for donations was subsequently written into her obituary.
What’s more, Waddell’s request was met in a big way. At her funeral, guests lined the chapel with donated backpacks, in fact. It was a fitting tribute to a woman who dedicated her life to helping children.
Waddell’s cousin, Dr. Brad Johnson, posted a touching image on social media of the backpack-filled chapel. Alongside the picture, he wrote: “My cousin’s final request at her funeral was backpacks full of supplies for needy students instead of flowers. A teacher to the end.”
Johnson uploaded several images to Twitter, in fact, including one of the many former colleagues of Waddell who’d attended the funeral to pay their respects. “She had about 100 teachers as honorary pallbearers who carried the backpacks out and back to their schools,” Johnson told CNN in June 2018. “It was heartwarming.”
Johnson’s images attracted a lot of condolences from the general public. And the tweets were subsequently shared far and wide, spreading the word of Waddell’s selfless gesture. His image of the chapel, for instance, has been retweeted almost 4,000 times.
Among the supportive messages, several Twitter users enquired about whether they could support this worthy cause themselves. As a result, Johnson sent out a tweet asking people to donate to their local educational districts. “Many in our family are educators, and we know the struggles of all districts,” he wrote. “Spread the love locally!”
Even so, Waddell’s district began to receive a large number of donations from across the U.S. and beyond. A British firm was among those contributing, for example. And the generosity of these donors allowed Waddell to leave a lasting legacy in her local area.
“She always felt a bond to students in need, whether they need[ed] supplies or a hug,” Johnson explained to BuzzFeed in June 2018. “She thought they needed backpacks more than she needed flowers.” In a separate interview with CNN, he added, “This was just the kind of teacher she was, and this is a reflection of her heart.”
An online guestbook has been filled with tributes from Waddell’s former students. “She was teacher for 5th grade and she was the best teacher ever!! I love you Mrs Waddell and you will be missed!!” read one entry. Another stated, “Best teacher I’ve ever had!! She was always so happy and so sweet and I’m going to miss you so much!!”
Moreover, BuzzFeed’s report about Waddell’s funeral attracted a large outpouring of support and condolences in the comments section. “I looked at the photo of all of those backpacks at the chapel and it just did me in. Bless Tammy Waddell’s heart….she had so many jewels in her crown,” wrote one reader. Another comment read, “I am seriously sitting here bawling my eyes out. This was so sad yet so beautiful.”
In addition, Waddell has left behind a family of educators. Her son Kevin is a teacher, as are each of her sons’ wives. Speaking to Good Morning America in June 2018, Kevin said, “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.”
“She lived life by loving others, and she was never worried about attention… she was just focused on the love,” Kevin continued. “The message she would try and deliver at this point is: donate to your local schools. It doesn’t have to be here specifically.”
The family have been touched by the outpouring of support from all over the world. “I think the pictures have gone viral because her story touches the soul of humanity,” Johnson told Today. “Her final lesson was to be of service to others. I would say her last lesson was well taught.”
During her life, Tammy Waddell would describe her pupils as “her kids.” And she ensured that her passing helped to make those children as well-equipped as possible for their education. Hopefully, her story will continue to encourage more donations to this worthy cause.