For 18 years, Lake Whitney Elementary’s Brian Bruton, better known as Mr. B, always could be counted on for high-fives. The community mourns the loss of its beloved PE teacher, who died suddenly of a massive heart attack March 11.
For the past 18 years at Lake Whitney Elementary School, high-fives from Mr. B were the stuff of legends.
The tall PE coach would hold his hand up by his chest, and many students would have to jump in hopes to reach it. Many students have the goal be able to give Mr. B a high-five — without having to jump — by the end of their fifth-grade year.
But tall enough or not, one thing was certain: Every student would get their high-five.
As PE coach, Brian Bruton, better known around Lake Whitney as Mr. B, interacted with every student who went through the school for the past 18 years, giving each child too many high-fives to count. So it was a blow not only to the school but also the community at large when he died of a massive heart attack March 11. He was only 45.
GIANT TEDDY BEAR
It was less than a week before the March 17 Field Day, when students looked forward to spending the day outdoors with Mr. B.
When Kaelyn Kantor, a fourth-grade Lake Whitney student, goes to Field Day, Mr. B is her greatest memory.
“The thing that I’m going to miss about Field Day is the activity that he does,” said Kaelyn. “It’s always the (most fun). He has you throw balls and water to each other.”
Each year on the first day of school, Mr. B could be seen walking with a nervous kindergartner, carrying the child’s small backpack and giving reassurance that it would be a great day.
“He is the kindest, most gentle, positive role model any child could ever have,” Kim Smirti, curriculum resource teacher, said, with tears. “He was always happy, upbeat, smiling. A giant teddy bear. He was always there when you needed him.”
When fourth-grader Debanhi Berrios went to Lake Whitney in second grade, Mr. B made her feel welcome.
“He made me feel like I was part of the school,” Debanhi said.
He also attended the annual Donuts with Dad event, but he would go to sit with the students who didn’t have anyone with them.
He means much to his current students, but in 18 years of teaching, he has affected those who have grown up and moved on from Lake Whitney. On March 15, the West Orange High School baseball team dedicated its game to
Ethan Jones, a senior starter on the team, always looked forward to PE classes with Mr. B when he attended Lake Whitney. Even in elementary school, Jones loved baseball, and Mr. B encouraged him to work on his game.
“He always told me to follow my dreams, and that nobody can take them from you,” Jones said. “If you want to play at the next level, high school, college or pros, you for sure can do it if you put your mind to it.”
Lauren Mathis, a softball player at West Orange High School, remembers talking about wanting to play softball at the University of Georgia even in elementary school, and Mr. B encouraged her to pursue that dream. The junior is now committed to the school.
But his former students also remember him for the happiness he exuded.
“He was literally one of the happiest people I have ever met,” Mathis said. “He was always so upbeat. He always had a smile on his face. He was never sad or mad about anything, or if he was, he didn’t show it. He just lived life really to the fullest. He was a great person.”
Mr. B will be remembered for his colorful shoes — he had a pair of shoes to match with every outfit, and he brought his pink shoes out in October for National Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
He is survived by his wife, Vera Bruton, and his children, Jermaine Lamar, Walter Lamar, Tonique Lamar and Brian Bruton Jr.
He inspired not only his students, but his children as well. Brian Bruton Jr. attended Lake Whitney soon after Mr. B was hired, and the two were called “Little B” and “Big B.”
“I just remember coming out and having fun,” said Bruton Jr. “It was just always good to have your dad here and have the people look at him like I looked at him. He’s still my hero. My dad is my Superman. He’ll be the best man I always had in my mind and my life.”
“He’ll be remembered through everything that I do through life,” Jermaine Lamar said. “He’s the reason that I’m a teacher. He was my first baseball coach. He was my first football coach. He taught me how to drive a car.”
The teachers and administration also loved him. The office staff looked forward to his visits at the end of each school day.
“I have a chair next to my desk in my office that I kick every day, and I can’t stand it there,” said Karen Hewett, the school clerk. “But I never move it, because at the end of the day, after dismissal — he used to make his rotations in the office and go to everyone’s office — that was the chair that he would sit in and chat with me for a little bit. I never wanted that chair to go away, because I always knew he was going to come and sit there.”
She plans to keep the chair right where it is.
He often buzzed around the office, helping with anything that the office staff and principal needed. He earned himself another nickname: “Honey B.”
“He was an amazing man,” Principal Elizabeth Prince said. “He would do anything for anybody. And it’s evident by the love that he shared with the children.”
At a tribute service March 16, the many tears of his current students illustrated how much Mr. B will be missed. The school currently is raising money to build a mountable high-five plaque, so although Mr. B is no longer at Lake Whitney, the students will always be able to get their high-five.
Contact Jennifer Nesslar at [email protected].