WESTFIELD, N.J. (CBSNewYork) — A beloved New Jersey principal died on Sunday night.
Dr. Derrick Nelson was known to the community for his kindness, compassion, integrity, and endlessly positive attitude.
On Monday and Tuesday, there was an outpouring of support for his family, students, staff and others who knew him, CBS2’s Meg Baker reported.
The Westfield community is taking the loss of its principal at the high school hard.
Nelson, 44, had served as principal since February of 2017 and was previously the vice principal of Westfield Junior High School (Roosevelt Intermediate School) since 2010. He has been described as a man with immense character and who was selfless, having served in the Army Reserve for more than 20 years.
“He lived his life with daily acts of selflessness and kindness, so it’s a tremendous loss and people are reeling from it,” Westfield Mayor Shelley Brindle said. “And my own kids will tell you about his humor in the hallways. He had this great sense of incredible, or incredible respect from the students. He was so beloved by so many. He just lived a life of service above self and I think there is a lesson that we’re all going to take away from his untimely passing that hopefully we can apply to our own lives.”
School Superintendent Dr. Margaret Dolan gushed over the fallen educator.
“Dr. Derrick Nelson was a gift to Westfield High School. He had a strong moral compass, perhaps strongest moral compass I have ever experienced,” Dolan said.
In 2017, Nelson was the voice of the school when a 13-year-old student was killed by an off-duty New Jersey trooper’s police car.
A friend told CBS2’s Baker that Nelson suffered complications after donating bone marrow to a 14-year-old boy in France and was in a coma for weeks.
“He always came to all sporting events, and any other events, like the plays, concerts. He was always supporting everybody,” senior Lilly Maz said.
WEB EXTRA – Dr. Max Gomez explains the risks of donating bone marrow:
Junior Daniel Peterson said he respected Dr. Nelson for many reasons, including his many years of military service.
“He was very easy to talk toand he pushed family values at assemblies or saw you in the hall. Now that he’s gone, it feels like part of the community is gone,” Peterson said.
The high school’s newspaper is dedicating the entire issue to their principal.
“I don’t think that we can fully embody his impact on this world in one four-page edition of ourpaper,” news editor Avery Conrad said.
“This man meant so much to the community, the high school, the town … his impact was felt when you were a freshman or when you left as senior,” sports editor Adam Holtman said.
He is survived by his parents, fiance, and 6-year-old daughter. Community members say one takeaway from this tragedy is to live life like Dr. Nelson — set high standards for ourselves and put others first.
A vigil will be held Wednesday at 8:15 p.m. at the high school.
The school will have counselors on hand this week to speak with students and parents about how to deal with death.