Staff Photo: Jason Braverman. More than 400 former and current Meadowcreek High School students, parents and local educators hold up candles outside the school to remember principal Bob Jackson who died Monday.
NORCROSS -- Students hugged students. Teachers hugged teachers. They huddled together in the summer sunlight, smiling, laughing and crying.
For more than 400 who showed up Tuesday to pay tribute to Meadowcreek High School's recently deceased principal, it might have felt more like a mid-summer reunion than a scene for mourning.
In that respect, one might say the vigil would have very much pleased the late Ladeadrick "Bob" Jackson.
Lilburn Middle School Principal Gene Taylor said the student-orchestrated ceremony was a fitting tribute for a man "who wanted to bring the community together."
Taylor said the students' efforts in planning the event were touching.
"I truly think what we're doing as adults to memorialize and celebrate his life will not approach the meaning that this would have had for him," he said.
Taylor stood with hundreds of others, who in conversation with their peers, recalled memories of Jackson, 51, who passed away Monday afternoon.
An official cause of death had not yet been released Tuesday evening.
A spokesman with Gwinnett County Public Schools said Jackson was at the school when he became ill and collapsed.
"The school called 911, and he was transported to a local hospital," said Jorge Quintana, director of media relations. The school system was later notified that Jackson had passed away.
As Meadowcreek's principal of five years and a longtime employee of the school system, many students and parents credited the man with improving the school during his tenure.
Candace Morris, a recent graduate of the school, said that "from the start, (Jackson) was determined to make Meadowcreek a better school. When he came on board, he took it to a whole other level."
Student La'Darrius Cummings, a senior, agreed.
"He was the best principal the school's ever had. His goal was to get us to excel, and that's what he did."
Kimberly Jackson, the parent of a student at Meadowcreek, said Jackson brought a lot to the table as an administrator.
"He had so many great ideas," she said. "He was someone who was ready to make these students better students."
She and hundreds more filed into the school's cafeteria as the vigil began Tuesday night.
The din of laughter and greetings faded after an administrator switched on the school's speaker system and asked for a moment of silence.
Language arts teacher Ilynette Ross then sang "To God Be the Glory" as students embraced, tears streaming down the faces of many.
Jackson's influence extended beyond the walls of just one school. In 2006, he moved from Berkmar High School, where he was an assistant principal. Prior to that, he worked at Central Gwinnett High School as first a teacher and later administrator.
In 2009 and 2010, Jackson led the school as it achieved Adequate Yearly Progress, an academic standard set by the U.S. No Child Left Behind Act designed to measure student performance.
From an administrative standpoint, Superintendent J. Alvin Wilbanks said Jackson was among the best.
"He made his mark as a teacher, assistant principal and principal, and those of us who were fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with him can only wish more educators were like Bob Jackson," Wilbanks said.
Jackson received his bachelor's degree from Cleveland University in Ohio, a master's degree from Piedmont College and Georgia State University and a specialist's degree from the University of Southern Mississippi.
He was the kind of man that young men could look up to, said David Wylie, a junior at Meadowcreek.
"There are people that have an impact in your life, and you have to respect that fact when those people come along," Wylie said. "Mr. Jackson impacted the lives of all of these people who showed up today."
Fellow principal Gene Taylor said Tuesday's well-attended vigil for Jackson was a "testament to his work."
"I think he's up there, and he's looking down right now ... I cannot imagine him not being completely overwhelmed by this. These kids loved this man."
As of Tuesday night, funeral arrangements had not yet been made. For updates, visit www.gwinnettdailypost.com.