NORCROSS — John Philip Rogers wasn’t just “John Doe.”
Before he received that anonymous pseudonym, the 62-year-old Duluth resident was much more: a beloved history teacher of more than 20 years at Norcross High School, a part-time professor at Brenau University, a father and a friend. He was loved by many students and respected by colleagues, making it all the more tragic that he spent his final days alone, hooked to machines in a Duluth hospital as police tried to identify him.
“Seeing him as ‘John Doe’ was horrible. He has so many people that love him,” said Angela Goodiel, a 2008 Norcross High graduate. “He was so genuinely interested in your life. And just an incredibly sweet guy. I really want everyone to know who he was and that he wasn’t just a ‘John Doe’ who lived alone.”
Police revealed Thursday that Rogers was the man who died last Friday after being found on the side of South Old Peachtree Road in cardiac arrest days earlier. He was finally identified by his son from California after tips trickled in that Rogers, who apparently collapsed while walking, could be the deceased victim.
Goodiel said Rogers might have been identified sooner if he looked more like himself in the photographs police circulated of him in his hospital bed at Gwinnett Medical Center-Duluth.
“If he had been recognizable, they would have gotten hundreds of phone calls,” she said. “I couldn’t tell it was him. It’s just because of the tubes and the cuts and because you can’t see his mouth and his eyes are closed.”
Goodiel said it was also difficult to ID Rogers because the man in the picture wasn’t smiling. She said Rogers often was doing just that as he helped them along, coming up with ways to make school fun and make the future look bright.
Other former students had similar memories of the man Rogers was.
“My mom met Mr. Rogers before I did, the week before I even started high school, and told me, ‘I met your favorite teacher.’ She was right,” said Liz Larson, Goodiel’s classmate. “We would write goofy skits that parodied historical events with ridiculous musical scores.”
Colleagues in Norcross also felt Rogers was someone special.
“To me personally, he was one of my mentors,” said James Glenn, co-department chair of Norcross High’s social studies department. “He was a friend and someone whose opinions and thoughts were valued.”
Rogers retired from Norcross High at the end of the last school year. He remained an adjunct professor in the humanities department at Brenau, where he was hired in 2005, teaching history on the school’s campus in Norcross, according to David Morrison, university spokesman.
Morrison said Rogers had degrees from Georgia State, the University of North Carolina and Florida State University. He also served in the Navy Reserve until 1999 when he retired as a commander.
At Brenau, Jim Southerland, the retired provost and history department chair who hired him, said Rogers was among the university’s finest adjunct professors.
“He was highly skilled in his use of technology in the classroom. I was impressed with his professionalism and his teaching skills,” Southerland said in a news release.
Current students at Norcross High heard of Rogers’ death Friday. But they were spared the unfortunate details. As school let out and students strolled to their buses and rides, an announcement came over the intercom. The principal told the news, though he didn’t say how Rogers died and he didn’t say “John Doe.”
He just said Rogers passed away and would be sorely missed.
For those students and others who wish to remember Rogers for he truly was, a memorial service has been scheduled for Thursday at 6:30 p.m. at Parkway Baptist Church on State Bridge Road in Duluth.
Efforts to locate Rogers’ family for comment were unsuccessful Friday.