Community saddened by passing of popular ODSS principal

February 2, 2017   ·   0 Comments

“If you need to know the measure of a man, simply count his friends.” – Thankful Heart, A Muppet Christmas Carol

Christmas lights are beginning to twinkle throughout Orangeville this week as part of a heartfelt tribute to Darryl Kirkland, a man whose life has impacted many over the years. Last Friday (Jan. 27), the community began to mourn together as news broke that he had passed away at the age of 51, following a long battle with cancer. He leaves behind his wife Christine, and their two children, Emma and Joshua.

It’s not abnormal to hear of teachers leaving a lasting impact on their students, but it does seem to be a rarity to hear of principals doing the same. To have someone in a position of responsibility over hundreds of students, capable of impacting most of them in a personal, positive way is an incredibly rare gift.

This was a gift Darryl had in abundance.

His teaching career began at Centre Dufferin District High School, where he taught until being promoted to vice-principal at ODSS. After Westside opened, he took over the same role there, eventually becoming principal at the school before transferring back to ODSS to take over the same position there in the late 2000s.

He was a man who was beloved by any who had the opportunity to know him; always capable of making people laugh and feeling they were genuinely cared about.

“Darryl was an incredible educator who left his mark on everyone fortunate enough to have known him,” said the Upper Grand District School Board (UGDSB) in a release. “He had a way of making those around him – the students, staff, and colleagues – feel special and valued. His passion, positivity, sense of humour, and indomitable spirit were an inspiration to all of us at UGDSB.”

In the hours that followed news of his passing, a Facebook group was created called Remembering Darryl Kirkland. Nearly 1,000 teachers, students, colleagues, friends, and family have joined to share their fondest memories of him, the comments highlighting the incredible footprint he has left on our lives. Each post echoes the same sentiments of the school board in their stories.

“A man who was truly ‘larger than life’,” wrote one colleague. “I was fortunate to have worked with Darryl and know him for over 10 years. He will be so very, very missed.”

Many of the posts in the group encompass the lasting impact he made on everyone through his vibrant personality. He was known for being a teacher who enjoyed having fun; he was light-hearted and didn’t hold back from diving in. Whether it was dressing up as Snow White, being silly on the Washington trip, or participating in a school-led rendition of So You Think You Can Dance, he was full of spirit and spunk.

“I attended ODSS and Westside during the great switcharoo of 2000,” said one former student. “He let us run a muck (sic) – within reason, kept his desk stocked with candy – and let us in to take it at will. He knew us all by name. Quite literally. He [led] amazing school trips, giving us full enactments of Lincoln’s speeches!”

He loved life, and he lived it to the fullest–there was always an opportunity for a joke, a laugh, or a smile when he was around.

More than that, he had the ability to inspire his students to push forward and see their own potential. Several students reminisced how when they were considering dropping out of school, it was Darryl who worked with them to find a solution to keep them in school. Other students shared how when they were bullied and felt lost and alone, he was a friend to them, giving them light when they felt hopeless.

“Bullying wasn’t a big word back then, or a big deal,” shared one former student. “His response was to listen and understand what I was going through, and to be there for me and try and find a solution. Not dismiss or belittle my situation. A man who, when some of us have been out of school for 10-15 years and can still remember him fondly and know he’s touched so many lives, that’s a testament to who he was. He leaves a great legacy in who he was and he left this world just a little better by being in it.”

Another student wrote, “Few teachers in school were able to connect with students the way Mr. Kirkland did. Even as many of us struggled to stay motivated and focused in school he always had a way to bring us back and encourage us. A wonderful man has passed today and one that will always live on in our memories. RIP to one of my all time favourite teachers. Thanks for believing in me.”

There were also many posts that spoke to the kind of family man and father he was, shared by friends, parents, and his children’s friends.

“Darryl was a friend and a role-model,” said one poster. “I loved every minute I spent with him. He had a zest for life that we all need to strive to achieve…He could make you laugh and feel the magic of life. Sometimes, he even provided the magic.”

One could easily spend an entire day reading through the fond memories posted in the group. Even through his battle, Darryl’s positivity and courage was infectious. When most people would be sharing their fears, hurts, and even anger over what they were facing, he continued to be loving, kind, and grateful for those in his life.

Throughout his treatment, even as he posted updates relating to his cancer, they were always accompanied by recognition of the things he saw as blessings in his life.

“So when you get what could be bad news about cancer you… Book a Disney trip! Life is too short.”

“25 round of chemo today. Friends dropped off homemade apple crisp From Emma’s soccer team We are blessed.”

“Tomorrow is my 40th round of chemo. Hate the stuff but it’s kept me alive so far. The people that deliver it to me are great. 4 hours.”

Darryl was also known for his love of Christmas lights. He was a firm believer that his lights should be lit until it was warm enough outside to take them down. This tradition has inspired a way to pay tribute to Darryl, as those who remember him are encouraged to keep their Christmas lights glowing for him until the memorial service, scheduled for this Saturday. Already, lights are coming back on throughout the town, and people are sharing their pictures to the group to commemorate him.

I have no doubt that Darryl’s legacy will become engrained in the very fabrics of our community. He was first, and foremost, a man who knew the power of kindness and of laughter, of supporting others instead of tearing them down. He was an example of how a single person investing in those around him can change and impact their lives in a deep and profound manner.

This Saturday, February 4th, a memorial service will be held at ODSS at 11:00 a.m. in the Cafetorium followed by a reception and refreshments in the gym.

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