Students, faculty lose beloved teacher Ken Hathaway

Published 12:00 am Thursday, October 19, 2006

VIDALIA &8212; For 36 years there&8217;s been one rock solid, fun-to-be-around constant for Vidalia High School seniors.

Thursday, the VHS family lost that fixture. Today, they&8217;ll begin the struggle to move on.

The faculty at the school knew something wasn&8217;t right when English teacher Kenneth Hathaway didn&8217;t show up for a planned staff development meeting Thursday morning.

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A few worried phone calls, knocks on the door and a 911 call later left them with the truth. Hathaway, 59, appears to have died of a massive heart attack sometime in the night, VHS Principal Rick Brown said. He lived alone in Natchez.

Thursday was a teacher workday, so students weren&8217;t in school. Students and teachers will gather today outside the school to remember Hathaway.

&8220;We are all family and he would want us to go on,&8221; Brown said. &8220;(Friday) is going to be the toughest day. He was a part of Vidalia High School. Seniors would come back (after graduating) and he&8217;d be the first person they&8217;d want to see.

&8220;He&8217;s going to be impossible to replace. But we are going to pull together, and this is going to be an ideal time to find out how close we are.&8221;

Hathaway taught English IV all 36 of his years at VHS. He also taught Spanish for a few years and has recently served as the yearbook sponsor and senior class sponsor.

In order to graduate from VHS, seniors had to take Hathaway&8217;s class, and now, several of his former students are faculty.

&8220;He was just so much fun,&8221; math teacher and former student Rebecca Crane said. &8220;English was never a class I cared much about, but he was so inspiring. He instilled a love of Shakespeare in me which I never would have had before.&8221;

Hathaway&8217;s classroom was fun in itself, with art projects and literature characters filling the walls and even ceilings, Crane said. He gave classic characters personalities and brought them to life, she said.

Teacher Gary Parnham was in Hathaway&8217;s class in 1986, but was still taking reading advice from him up to last week.

&8220;He was one of the greatest teachers I ever had,&8221; he said. &8220;He gave me a love for reading. Still to this day he&8217;d stop by every few days and drop off a book.&8221;

But Crane and Parnham consider themselves among the lucky ones.

&8220;Other students don&8217;t yet know what they are missing,&8221; Crane said. &8220;It&8217;s the former students that are all broken up. I really feel bad for the students coming up because they just won&8217;t get him. They won&8217;t have that opportunity.&8221;

Parnham said it was also the lifelong lessons Hathaway taught him through special projects that had an impact.

&8220;I&8217;m sad that my children aren&8217;t going to be able to go to class under him,&8221; he said. &8220;I just don&8217;t have enough fine things to say about him. It&8217;s a big loss for me, a big loss for Vidalia High School and a big loss for the Miss-Lou.&8221;

The impact on his students is incalculable, Brown said, but his loss hit the faculty hard too.

&8220;He touched the faculty too,&8221; Brown said. &8220;You can&8217;t be in one place as long as he was and not have a big impact on them.&8221;

The school&8217;s flag flew at half-staff Thursday, something initiated by the teachers, Brown said. The door to his classroom remained closed, lights off, and notes were posted on it.

Damus Smith, a computer technology teacher, was a senior at the school Hathaway&8217;s first year on the job, but he knew him better as a co-worker.

&8220;He&8217;s always been a good person to work alongside,&8221; Smith said. &8220;He was like that guide when you didn&8217;t know what you were doing.&8221;

Parents, teachers and community members are invited to join the brief ceremony in the school&8217;s quadrangle today at 8 a.m.

Brown said counselors will be available to students Friday.

For now, other teachers will step in to fill Hathaway&8217;s yearbook role and substitutes will teach his class. Brown said he would begin working on a long term plan Monday.

Hathaway was not married and had no children.

Funeral arrangements are incomplete with Laird Funeral Home.