WESTFIELD, N.J. (CBSNewYork) – Candles and tears marked a New Jersey vigil to remember a beloved principal’s selfless sacrifice.

Hundreds paid tribute to the man who served our country, schools, and then died trying to save a stranger.

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Amidst a sea of memorial candles, students, colleagues, and parents shed tears over the loss of 44-year-old Westfield High School’s Dr. Derrick Nelson.

The school’s principal died Sunday following a month-long coma that began after he donated his bone marrow to a 14-year-old boy in France.

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“I don’t think Derrick thought it’s heroic at all. I think Derrick said ‘I got this thing this kid needs and I gotta do this why wouldn’t I do,’” Maureen Mazzarece, the director of school counseling said.

Last month, Nelson told the school paper, “if it’s just a little bit of pain for a little bit of time that can give someone years of joy, it’s all worth it.”

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The selfless attitude was part of his DNA. Nelson also served 20 years in the U.S. Army Reserve.

“There’s no better man to look up to and live the way he did,” parent Mark Wistner said.

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“I feel very lucky to have known him,” school board member Gretchan Ohlig added.

His fiancé and mother of his six-year-old daughter thanked the hundreds of mourners for loving Nelson the way his family loved him.

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“The loss of him as been extremely devastating for us, but Derrick would want us to continue his legacy and keep his memory alive,” Sheronda Braker said.