Vigil for ‘selfless’ NJ principal Wednesday night
WESTFIELD — A community continues to mourn the sudden loss of its high school principal.
Derrick Nelson, the principal of Westfield High School, died on Sunday after slipping into a coma after donating bone marrow in February for a 14-year-old boy in France, Nelson's 81-year-old father, Willie Nelson, told NJ.com.
According to the elder Nelson, his 44-year-old son couldn't speak or move after the procedure, but recognized family members who kept a vigil at his bedside at a Bergen County hospital.
Mayor Shelley Brindle at Tuesday night's Town Council meeting said there would a vigil for Nelson in front of Westfield High School at 8:15 p.m. Wednesday.
"He is someone who exemplified who we all aspire to be, epitomizing 'service above self,'" Brindle told the Council.
Beside his work in education, Nelson had served as an officer in the Army Reserve for more than 20 years and had recently re-enlisted. His military service included an assignment in the Middle East. He had a 6-year-old daughter and was engaged.
Nelson "embodied all that makes New Jersey great. His final act was one of selflessness," Gov. Phil Murphy wrote in a message on his Twitter account.
State Sen. Declan O'Scanlon, R-Monmouth, called Nelson's death "heartbreaking," and called for people to follow his example of bone marrow donations.
"What an honorable lifetime of service and I bet he’d want his loss to inspire others. Register as a bone marrow donor now," O'Scanlon wrote in a message on his Twitter account.
An online petition also drew over 5,000 signatures to get the high school renamed after Nelson to honor his generosity.
School board president Peggy Oster said the petition was an example of the level of "heartfelt response" to Nelson's death and the "enormous respect" the community had for him.
"The Westfield Board of Education and school administration look forward to discussing the petition at a later date. For the immediate future, our focus remains on making sure that we support our students and staff as we all cope with the loss of Dr. Nelson," Oster said.
A viewing for Nelson is scheduled for Monday from 5 to 9 p.m. and Tuesday from 10 to 11 a.m. at St. John Baptist Church on Morse Road in Scotch Plains. The funeral will be at 11 a.m. at the church.
Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.
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