|Photo courtesy of McGrath family.|
Students, staff and parents of Edwin S. Richards Elementary are grieving the unexpected death of a popular teacher.
At 2 p.m., Jan. 7, parents and students were informed of Jamie McGrath’s death, which occurred the previous day at Abbotsford Regional Hospital. Crisis counsellors and other supports have been brought in for the school, said Superintendent Angus Wilson.
“It’s a terrible time for the kids and the staff of the school. He was a beloved teacher and colleague and we’re all going to miss him,” Wilson said. “We’re making sure that we’ve got the supports for the kids and staff to make sure they can continue on.”
McGrath had worked for the Mission School District since 2003, teaching classes for Windebank Elementary, Silverdale Elementary, Hillside Traditional Academy, Albert McMahon Elementary, Cherry Hill Elementary, Durieu Elementary, Mission Secondary and Hatzic Middle through the years.
He taught Grade. 5 and 6 at Edwin S. Richards Elementary, but had been off work for several months due to health issues, according to Wilson.
A “flight team,” consisting of district staff with specialized training has been brought in to help support and communicate the news to students and staff, said Wilson, who is part of that team. He said that communication began with the principal, followed by staff, then students and parents this afternoon.
“It begins with very simple things, like this morning we brought [the teachers] muffins and coffee and those kinds of things,” Wilson said. “I have to tell you, having been there, some of that staff is pretty upset.”
Teachers on call will be present at the school for the next several days to step in and cover for teachers unable to continue classes, Wilson said, and grief counselling with be available for both students and staff.
“It’s very important … how you communicate with children around death and loss,” Wilson said. “With a lot of good intention in the past, there has been some very bad ways of doing it.
“We have a pretty good process in place.”
School principal, Sharon Widdows, described McGrath as a “well-loved, dedicated educator” involved in many activities with students and staff. She said he organized all the school’s extra-curricular sports activities, such as the curling and ice skating program, the running club and mountain-biking club and track and field.
“He played bagpipes for special occasions and Remembrance Day, and was well-known in the school for preparing haggis on Robbie Burns Day for staff and students,” Widdows said. “Jamie will be greatly missed at E.S. Richards.”
Wilson said he’ll remember their “little Scottish connection,” and wearing kilts together every Jan. 25 for Robbie Burns Day.
“He was a piper. Last year, I think he piped the kids back into school after lunchtime.”
McGrath’s three daughters, Rhiannon, Paige, and Zoe, and his sister Maureen, wrote a statement on behalf of the family.
“As a family, we are devastated to announce the sudden passing of our father, brother, and friend,” they wrote.
“As an active member of the Mission Community, we know that he touched many hearts through his lifetime. He was a great teacher for the past 18 years, and we know how much he cared for each and every one of his students. He truly had a hard time this past year as he was unable to work due to a chronic illness unrelated to COVID-19. He was in Abbotsford Regional Hospital at the time of his passing, though it was unexpected. Jamie spent his time outdoors, hiking with his dogs, mountain biking, coaching, as well as any other excuse to be outside with his family and friends. We will remember him for his lifetime of bagpiping, participating in many parades and events both independently and with the Mission and Poco Legion Pipe bands. Jamie was the kindest and most funny, giving person that many of us had the pleasure to have in our lives. As he was a registered organ donor as well as a regular blood donor, we ask that those who can, might please take the time to do either or both in his memory. We would like to remember Jamie according to wishes in a celebration of life but due to the circumstances, we will be delaying this until further notice when we are able to gather safely.”