When Gary Kessler died last spring, his family was unable to celebrate his life with others who loved him. With a pandemic spreading through the area, large gatherings weren’t allowed.
The longtime coach and teacher at Wilson Memorial High School died unexpectedly April 3, stunning those who knew him including the athletes he coached in cross country and track.
“It was really hard not being able to be with our church community who just loved Gary,” said his wife, Angie. “We’ve been at the same church since we moved here in 1984, so that was really hard.”
Not being able to gather with former co-workers and students and athletes also made it hard on his wife.
“I really missed being able to hug the people that we love and that loved him,” said his daughter, Andrea Babral. “It was definitely strange and left me feeling incomplete.”
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Now, though, the family feels it’s the right time to have a celebration. On Tuesday, Aug. 11, at 4 p.m., family and friends will gather at Coyner Springs Park in Waynesboro.
Those attending are invited to bring their own chairs or blankets and, while maintaining proper social distance, share stories about Kessler.
“I’m sure there are just so many people that have those stories,” Andrea said. “That’s what I really want, for people to be able to share about him.”
Angie said she heard some of those stories virtually soon after Gary died. Comments posted on social media and the funeral home website were something to give her hope during a difficult time.
“How much Gary meant to the kids,” Angie said. “We even heard from former students when he was at Fishburne [Military School].”
People contacted the family that they hadn’t heard from in years and told them about the impact Gary had on their lives.
“That kind of outpouring of love was really kind of overwhelming,” Andrea said. “But it’s also heartwarming.”
Angie found it comforting to read those messages.
“Every time I would read a comment it would just make my heart smile,” she said.
Gary Kessler was a Marine, serving 23 years as a fighter pilot and a reservist. After his service, the Desert Storm veteran certainly made an impact in the classroom and on the athletic field.
It was as a father, husband and grandfather, though, where he made the most difference.
“He was kind of like a best friend,” said his son, Parker. “If you had a problem you could go to him about it. And he always treated mom like a queen.”
Andrea said he was a complete pushover, though, when it came to his granddaughter, Gabriella, now 13. When she was in elementary school she’d ride the bus after school to Wilson Memorial High School and find either her grandmother in the front office or her granddad on the track. Seeing their granddaughter almost every day was special for both Gary and Angie.
“From the moment that my daughter was born, he was wrapped around her finger,” Andrea said. “They stayed close buddies until the end.”
The memories and the comments from others have been special since Gary’s death, but something was missing. Andrea thinks that something was gathering with everyone else, and now she can do that Tuesday.
“Dad wasn’t the kind of guy who wanted a spotlight shined on him and his accomplishments,” she said. “However, his generosity of spirit, leadership, and inspiration to hundreds of students and athletes are deserving of every accolade, every admiration, and all possible acclaim.”