In his honor

Published 12:19 am Saturday, May 14, 2011

“Team Darden” walked in honor of King’s Fork Middle School principal Talmadge Darden at Friday’s Relay for Life, less than 24 hours after Darden died of cancer. Team Darden included mostly staff and students from King's Fork Middle School.

Debra Shapiro said she was at a low point in her teaching career when Talmadge Darden called her to invite her to work at King’s Fork Middle School.

“He said three things: ‘We need you here at King’s Fork Middle School; we want you here at King’s Fork Middle School; and we would love to have you at King’s Fork Middle School,’” she said.

Shapiro said only two of those statements had to be true for her to agree, but soon after starting in her new position, she realized Darden meant all of them.

Email newsletter signup

“He made you want to be here,” she said.

After a battle with cancer that lasted only a few months, Darden died on Thursday. He was 54 years old.

Darden started having health problems last fall. Darden’s doctors found cancer in several parts of his body after he had kidney surgery in December.

Because the cancer had spread so rampantly, he opted against treatment.

“He was a great man to work for,” Shapiro said. “He’s going to be missed.”

The school system released a statement on Darden’s passing Friday.

“The Superintendent and School Board and all of us at Suffolk Public Schools are very sad today,” the statement said. “Mr. Darden was a valued school administrator who added not only to King’s Fork Middle School but to the entire school division with his experience, his leadership, his wisdom and his wonderful, giving personality. He will be greatly missed.”

Darden started his career with Suffolk Public Schools in 1979 as a teacher at Southwestern Intermediate School.

It was at Southwestern that media specialist Sandra White first met Darden.

Since then, she has been with him at every school Darden has worked. He became assistant principal at Southwestern in 1985. He then became principal at John Yeates Middle School in 1990, and in 2001, Darden helped open King’s Fork.

“I’m glad that I was a part of his life and his team,” White said.

Like White, Darden was the only boss Susan Quattlebaum, a King’s Fork math teacher, has ever known.

“He’s the only principal I’ve ever worked for at Southwestern, John Yeates and here,” she said. “I deliberately followed him around because I knew he was the best principal I’d ever meet.”

Keyboarding teacher Dave Churchya, who considered Darden a mentor, said he will fondly remember having dinners with him and listening to his stories.

“He just keeps you enthralled with his stories,” he said.

Churchya added Darden had three great loves in his life: education, music and cooking.

“The school was his number one priority,” he said. But cooking was a great passion for him.

Churchya said King’s Fork Middle saved a lot of money for events because Darden did the catering, and as a result they got to enjoy opportunities other schools did not.

Aside from his work at the schools, Darden was also an active member and choral director at Suffolk Christian Church for the past 17 years.

The Rev. Michael Halley, the pastor at Suffolk Christian, said Darden was the kind of person who could put on a dinner for 1,000 people, then go direct the choir while playing the organ.

“He was an absolute marvel in every way,” said the Rev. Michael Halley, pastor at Suffolk Christian. “He was a dear, dear friend to many people.”

Halley said everyone who worked with him knew whatever effort they put out, Darden would double.

“He truly was a leader and inspiration in every way,” he said.

In fact, Darden served as inspiration for a group of staff members at King’s Fork to form a Relay for Life team, called Team Darden, in his honor. At the last minute, the team’s participation became in memory of Darden. The team still walked Friday night in the Relay, which benefits the American Cancer Society.

Team Darden is also selling a cookbook filled with Darden’s recipes for $20 to benefit the cancer society.

Team captain and history teacher Hope Bradshaw said the members would walk harder and stronger for Darden.

“Talmadge would have it no other way but to carry on,” said co-captain and English teacher Lisa Rath.

Bradshaw said, “We had so many good gifts from him, it’s impossible to not be appreciative.”

The funeral service for Darden will be held Tuesday, May 17, at 7 p.m. at Suffolk Christian Church. Visitation will be held prior to the service at 5 p.m.

The service can also be viewed via videoconferencing in the fellowship hall at Suffolk Christian and at the auditorium at King’s Fork Middle School.