I was a colleague of Darryl Aftel for over twenty years and attended a memorial held for him on March 8, 2020, at the Sutton Middle School. All came to celebrate his contribution to special education instruction, athletics, and Northside / North Atlanta High School’s scheduling of all classes. Darryl, a native of Norfolk, VA, lived for forty years in Marietta, GA.
Coach Aftel’s memorial was held at the start of the Corona Virus pandemic, yet a hundred or more people braved it and showed up with affection for Darryl and appreciation for his impact on young people. I was touched by the number and diversity of former students, teachers, administrators, and parents who honored his memory with eulogies or stories, some with tears in their eyes, but most with humor because Darryl was a funny and unique guy.
The show of respect for Darryl’s life moved me to develop my own memorial page for him that I hope complements the Facebook tribute to his memory and leads to greater awareness of his contribution.
Jenny Stone, through the Facebook network, organized a wonderful tribute to Darryl’s life and career. Former Sutton Middle Principal, David York, served as the emcee.
Northside / North Atlanta’s great musical legacy was evident in former Jazz Band Director Reggie Colbert performing a touching trumpet solo to begin the program.
Darryl, a cross-country, track, and assistant football coach developed numerous good runners and players. Derek Watkins, Ken Warner, and Ed Billingslea delivered moving remembrances full of outrageous athletic experiences with him; Uwezu McReynolds added an insightful perspective.
Randall Kirsch performed two beautiful songs on guitar – the videos can be accessed on the Facebook memorial page developed for Darryl. Many fellow teachers and former students have also written warm comments on the online obituary.
During the reception that followed the program, goodwill, cheer, and a lot of laughter filled the air. I was amazed by the volume of Aftel stories and memories circulating the lobby and told my fair share too.
I was also amazed by how everyone spoke of how the Northside / North Atlanta educational community is very special. The school routinely believed that it could make initiatives happen that most schools wouldn’t dare to dream. A strong culture of achievement was produced by caring and supportive parents, smart and hard-working students, and teachers and administrators who embraced a systemic belief that if it’s good for the kids, do it.
Brian Kirsch and others have kicked off a memorial fund in Darryl’s memory.
Darryl endured a life-long condition of epilepsy that was kept under good control by a prescribed, effective barbituate program and his self-discipline. The side effect, however, was a need to retire very early which caused him to awaken before some went to bed.
A benefit of his pattern was his arrival at 4 AM one morning to take care of backed up paperwork. Darryl discovered that one side of Northside High was already in flames that were turning a corner to engulf another corridor. My classroom lay in the direct path.
He immediately called Principal Bill Rudolph who answered; “Aftel, it’s 4 AM, this better be very important.”
David York recalled Darryl informing Bill who passed in 2019; “Your school is on fire, is that a good enough reason.”
Darryl saved the school that we were about to evacuate with the coming merger with North Fulton High. The two schools combined in the North Fulton facility for three years while the Northside building was renovated (1991 – 1994).
Darry’s energy level was always hours ahead of his fellow teachers. Each morning he stood over the sign-in book chirping or barking at mid-day energy level while we scuffled in and out of the office, our eyes finally widening. I looked at him sometimes as if he was out of synch with us and occasionally reached out to him.
One example was my late wife Sue meeting and getting to know Darryl at a Northside High graduation. He reminded her of a special education teacher and friend in the Fulton County system and being a successful matchmaker, wanted to set them up. Darryl smiled and thanked Sue but the next day took me aside to bare his soul.
Darryl lamented that he could not drink nor smoke pot or other drugs – they would de-stabilize his medical condition. Most women he met did and put him at risk.
I responded; “What did it matter if the woman drank or smoked pot if she was a nice lady, liked him, and respected his situation?”
He was clear about feeling at risk. Darryl accepted his life – it was for his students that he lived and who greatly benefitted from his good-hearted friendship and support. He poured himself into his athletic teams, made a nice life for himself, and was happy.
One might feel sad that he died alone, but the hundred or more people who congregated to celebrate his life are testimony that he did not. Darryl Lee Aftel lived the life he wanted and was probably smiling down from heaven at the throng that gathered for him.
We miss you man.