School bags filled with supplied placed by church pews symbolized the last wish of teacher Tammy Waddell. This photo snapped by family member Dr. Brad Johnson went viral and has been featured internationally. Photo by Brad Johnson.
Teacher’s last wish for school supplies honored
A former Forsyth County teacher whose final wish has gone international has ties to Dawson County.
Tammy Layne Waddell, age 58, passed away after a long illness on June 9, 2018.
At her funeral June 12, dozens of backpacks filled with school supplies lined the pews. Her cousin, Dr. Brad Johnson tweeted, "My cousin's final request at her funeral was backpacks full of supplies for needy students instead of flowers. A teacher to the end."
The tweet went viral and has had over one million views. As a result, its author was contacted by major news outlets, television America, The Today Show, the Ellen DeGeneres Show and local coverage from Fox5 and CNN. The story and an accompanying photo ran in Southern Living magazine, too.
“I think her story really touched the heart of humanity,” Brad Johnson said. “We see death as a sad or bad thing, but she showed that even in death we can inspire, love, and care for others. She was a teacher to the end.”
Over her three-decade career, Waddell worked as a paraprofessional and a teacher at Sawnee Elementary, Cumming Elementary and Haw Creek Elementary in the Forsyth County school district. She was a national board-certified teacher and in 2003, was recognized as the Forsyth County Schools Elementary Teacher of the Year. She had recently retired from the district.
“There is no doubt that Ms. Tammy answered her life's calling,” Dawson County Sheriff Jeff Johnson said, describing his cousin.
“She was a special lady; whose attitude and infectious caring touched so many. Sweet Tammy will be dearly missed but the love and compassion she displayed for others, will most certainly carry on. I have lost two first cousins in the past year,” he said. “Both were young (in their forties and fifties).”
"She was a servant leader who loved children,” Forsyth School System spokesperson Jennifer Caracciolo said. “The generous backpack/supplies donations in her memory are a touching tribute.”
Approximately 100 teachers who had worked with Waddell over the years served as honorary pallbearers. Together they carried the backpacks out of the church honoring her last wish, in what Brad called a “heartwarming” tribute.
The backpacks will be distributed through Project Connect, a school district initiative to help students in need.
“Hundreds of backpacks have been sent to the Project Connect in her honor,” Brad Johnson said. “There have been backpacks and supplies sent from as far away as the U.K.”
Waddell is survived by her beloved husband of 41 years, Mike; two sons, BJ (Lori) and Kevin (Jackie); grandchildren, Caroline and Lily Kate, Ansley and Ryder; mother, Barbara Meadows; brother, Joey (Teenna) Meadows; honorary son, Adam Norrell; father-in-law, Robert Waddell; brothers-in-law, Rickey (Jean) Waddell, Billy (Melissa) Waddell; sister-in-law, Patsy (Frankie) Dodd; several nieces and nephews; and several great nieces and nephews.
Former Forsyth County School teacher, Tammy Waddell. Photo courtesy of the Waddell family.
A mountain of school supplies donated in honor of Tammy Waddell, who has been described as “a teacher to the end.” Photo courtesy of the Waddell family.