John Oakley, a popular Spokane Public Schools teacher passed away Thursday. KREM 2's Jane McCarthy reflects on the amazing impact he had before his death.
I meet many extraordinary people in my job every day.
But it's not the celebrities or politicians or athletes I remember most. It's the ordinary people living extraordinary lives.
I want to take a few minutes to tell you about someone extraordinary.
His name is John Oakley.
We lost John on Thursday.
A tragically evil disease called ALS took his life at the young age of 59.
I met John because I was doing a story about his courageous life in the face of ALS. I wished I would have gotten to know his kind spirit and generous heart much earlier in his life.
The disease causes your muscles to fail over a matter of months... trapping you in your body until it robs you of the ability to breathe. This is when I met John Oakley.
Coaching his beloved students on the baseball field at Sacajawea Middle School on Spokane's South Hill where he was also a teacher. He coached his players using a golf cart after ALS made it difficult to get around. He coached them in the spring, knowing that was the last season ALS would allow.
His adult sons joined him to help coach that final season. They watched their father coach baseball, but more importantly they watched John teach kids how to live and love life even when it is slipping away.
"I just think life is way too short to worry about what we can't control,” he said at the time. "If anything can come of this positive, is for my Sac kids, is to learn how to deal with adversity and do it in a positive way."
Some of you knew John because he was a familiar, friendly face on the sideline of Gonzaga basketball games for years as he was running the clock.
On Saturday, Gonzaga honored John before the game for his years of service to the program. The crowd roared their support for this humble man who emitted light.
His example sparked something greater right here at KREM 2. KREM's News Director, Noah Cooper, competed in Ironman Coeur d'Alene in August to raise money to help local ALS patients.
We wanted more people to know about John's example to help others coping with ALS, so we put together a one hour special on Noah's Ironman fundraiser.
We called it "Project Inspire: End ALS." John waited at the Ironman finish line and his presence and inspiration drew Noah to finish when his body was failing.
"John, I want you to have my Ironman medal. And when you're having a bad day, I want you to look at this and remember how your inspiration got me through a tough day, just like you have inspired hundreds of kids that you have coached and taught,” said Cooper. “Thank you for your example. Thank you for your inspiration. John Oakley, you're my Ironman."
I am honored to have known John Oakley. I am honored he let me bring his story to you. John wasn't a celebrity or an athlete. He was your neighbor, the guy at the gym, the man behind you in line at the grocery store.
Some would call that an ordinary life.
I call it an extraordinary life for an incredible man who made a difference in hundreds of lives. And on this day we lost this special man. Even if you didn't know him, my hope is for you to share some of the inspiration from the extraordinary life of John Oakley.
Oakley lost his battle with Lou Gehrig’s disease at the age of 59. He taught thousands of students throughout his 28 year history with the Spokane Public Schools District. He worked at Roosevelt, Garfield Elementary and Sacajawea Middle School.
“He touched the lives of thousands of students and parents and will be deeply missed,” wrote SPS in a Facebook post. Oakley leaves behind a wife, two sons and a daughter-in-law.