Friday was a solemn day for the Bedford school community after one of its beloved teachers, a gentle and kind man described as a “rainbow in the sky,” died by suicide on Thursday.
Tim Doherty, a fourth-grade teacher at Peter Woodbury Elementary School, had been an educator with the district since 2005.
“We are a family here, and his loss is like one of a family member. There was no one in the school who wouldn’t attest to his kindness and generosity,” Colleen West, a teacher at PWS, said of her former coworker.
According to West, Doherty cared most about his connections and relationships with students and staff.
“He cared about his students as much as he did his own children. Tim had an easy way of keeping things light when they felt heavy, and checking in when he knew a staff member needed support,” she said. “What most will remember is his smile. There was never a time that we would pass in the hall without a smile.”
Initially, school officials were told that Doherty’s death was the result of a car accident — information that was then relayed to parents via email on Thursday evening. However, administrators updated parents on Friday after learning that Doherty died by suicide.
Parents from throughout Bedford say they are heartbroken about Doherty’s passing, and never imagined they would need to share such heartbreaking news with their children.
Samantha Farrow’s daughter, Avery, had Doherty as a teacher last year.
“He has made a mark on this family, particularly Avery, that will last a lifetime. It is an unimaginable loss to our community,” said Farrow, explaining Doherty’s students adored him, his endless dad jokes and stories about his daughters.
He was not only kind and caring, but had an amazing ability to understand the kids, pay attention to their needs and truly grasp when they were struggling, according to Farrow.
“He was special and we were lucky to have him. All of PWS was fabulous, but he truly was top-notch,” added Nicole Fragos-Hadley. Her daughter, Bella, also had Doherty as a teacher last year. “His loss greatly affected our child, even as she had moved into fifth-grade — that is how special he was. She was disappointed not to be able to tell him how well she transitioned. She said, ‘Mr. Doherty was a rainbow in the sky, that’s how special he is.’”
Several other parents echoed similar sentiments, including Claudia Barrett, who described Doherty as a man who exuded kindness and warmth.
“The best way to honor him is for our children to remember what special things he taught them,” said Barrett, who is hopeful that the community can heal, honor Doherty and share wonderful stories about him.
Christine Roberts, another Bedford parent whose son previously had Doherty as a teacher for both second and third grade, said her family is heartbroken by the tragic loss.
“Mr. Doherty had such a calm, reassuring presence about him and was very in tune to the kids’ strengths and struggles. He was a dedicated and kind teacher who cared about the overall well-being of his students and not just their academic output,” said Roberts.
According to Cheryl Daley, principal at PWS, counseling staff from throughout the district is being sent to the school to assist anyone who may need help throughout the grieving process.
Liz Alexakos, a Bedford parent, said Doherty had also worked as a soccer referee, noting he had a gift of being firm and clear, and wouldn’t hesitate to stop a game and embrace a teachable moment.
“He was such a gift to all three of my children in so many ways. As a teacher myself, I know the hard work and long hours that goes into the job,” said Alexakos. “ … I can say, Tim gave all of that and more. We felt so blessed to have him as a teacher.”
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255, or may be accessed by visiting https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org. Families dealing with a sudden loss may also utilize this resource at https://childmind.org/downloads/Grief_Guide_021317.pdf.