High School Principal Known for ‘Endless Positive Attitude’ Dies Unexpectedly, Town Mourns Him

By Paula Liu

A school district in New Jersey was devastated after the sudden passing of Westfield High School’s beloved principal.

Derrick Nelson was hailed by the school as a great man, and he was known to his students as having an “endlessly positive attitude,” according to NBC.

The school did not disclose the cause of death, but according to the school’s newspaper, the principal donated bone marrow to a 14-year-old in February to save his life.

“It is with profound sadness and great difficulty that I announce Westfield High School principal Dr. Derrick Nelson died last night,” Westfield Public Schools Superintendent Margaret Dolan said in a letter that was sent out to parents on April 8. “Dr. Nelson touched us all with his kindness, compassion, integrity, and endless positive attitude.”

Dolan added, “We hold him and his family in our hearts as we grieve this loss together and I know you [will] join me in granting his family the privacy they have requested.”

In addition, starting April 9, the school would be offering counseling for the students, Dolan said.

According to the parents, he was always present for his students, and was very welcoming with the parents. The school’s former students also spoke about Nelson’s kindness toward the students, saying he genuinely cared about them and wanted to see them succeed.

“This is a tremendous loss for our community, and I know that our children, and we as parents, will struggle with coming to terms with this over the coming days and weeks,” Mayor Shelley Brindle wrote in a Facebook post. “He was a man of immense character and kindness, and his legacy will live on in the generations of students whose lives he touched.”

My family was devastated to hear the news of the passing of Westfield High School principal Dr. Derrick Nelson. This is…

Posted by Mayor Shelley Brindle on Monday, April 8, 2019

Other people who knew of Nelson were also aware of the impact that he had on the students and were just as impacted by his passing. Brindle said she contacted the superintendent and would offer whatever kind of assistance she could provide for the town during this difficult time.

“He always tried to inspire students in the classroom and outside to the good people,” said Jackson O’Brien, the senior class president. “I think he served as a great role model.”

According to ABC, the principal of Westfield High School served in U.S. Army Reserve as an officer for more than 20 years. During this time, he attended Seton Hall University and received his doctorate in education administration.

Before Nelson became the principal of Westfield High School in 2017, he also served as the vice principal of Westfield Junior High School since 2010.

Marrow Donation

In the school’s paper, “Hi’s Eye,” Natalie Becker, one of the paper’s Op-Ed editors, wrote an article on the principal on Feb. 25, which detailed the kindness shown by Nelson when he donated his bone marrow to a 14-year-old boy in France.

The article gave details about the donation process and what the principal went through to help a boy all the way across the world.

In October 2018, a national bone marrow donor program, Be The Match, contacted Nelson and told him that he was a potential match for a boy in France, according to the student-ran newspaper. A few months later, his bone marrow would be traveling all the way across the world to the boy in need.

Nelson donated his blood during his college years, completely unaware that someone would be needing it 22 years later.

When Nelson underwent the process, the initial plan was to extract bone marrow for the stem cells. However, there was a problem—Nelson developed a sleeping disorder from his military days—sleep apnea. According to the Mayo clinic, it is a potentially serious disorder in which a person’s breathing will stop and start during sleep.

This would hinder the process, as it was dangerous to put Nelson into an anesthetic state. The also considered intravenous stem cell donation, but it was scrapped when they found out Nelson had sickle cell trait.

The doctors went back to the original plan and put Nelson under local anesthetics, but under careful watch, and they were able to extract the bone marrow to be sent to France.

Nelson said, “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.”