Cary, NC — James “Sonny” Alston, the beloved school crossing guard for Northwoods Elementary, passed away on Sunday, December 20, 2015. To celebrate and remember Sonny’s life, we asked readers to share their quotes and memories about this special man.
Hundreds responded with monetary donations, loving cards and supportive words when Sonny, a beacon of sunshine for many Cary residents, was hospitalized last week. Sonny passed away yesterday, but he had been flooded with love and support in the days and hours before.
The walls of Sonny’s hospital room were filled with cards from kids and adults alike. A local company donated a “get well” sign to display in front of the school to support Sonny, and a “Go Fund Me” page was created for Sonny and his family to help the community donate money to help cover medical bills and expenses. $11,370 was raised in just ten days.
In response to Sonny’s death, Leigh Williams, the PTA Vice President at Northwoods Elementary, said, “I am so saddened by this news but so grateful that we got the chance to let Mr. Sonny know just how much he meant to us. He heard our messages, got so many cards and felt so much of the love come full circle that he had given out as a humble crossing guard at Northwoods Elementary for so many years.”
Never a Stranger
The parents, teachers, staff and students of Northwoods Elementary in Cary knew Sonny well, but so did the drivers who passed him at his post on Chapel Hill Road every morning. I’ve heard over and over again that the “magic of Sonny” was that he’d wave at the commuters and give everyone who passed him in the morning the happiest and most infectious of smiles.
In a story we wrote about Sonny five years ago, he said, “I figured that everyone could use a friendly wave every day.” He started showing up an hour early everyday to wave at drivers.
I realized just how popular, and how special, Sonny was in the community when my mom told me that, about three years ago, she and my sister would bring Sonny a coffee from Starbucks once a week on their way to school and work. My sister was in high school at the time and had nothing to do with Northwoods – my family knew Sonny that well just from passing him everyday.
I collected the following quotes about Mr. Sonny. Some were sent to me last week, and some were left as comments in our 2010 story. Stephanie Mood, former Northwoods Elementary parent and resident of Buckhurst West, a walking neighborhood of the school, said:
One of the best things about Sonny is you don’t have to “know” Sonny to know Sonny. Nor does he have to know you. I don’t think anyone is a stranger to him. He may be the Northwoods crossing guard, but he’s also the Town of Cary greeter. When you think about it, driving down Chapel Hill Road just isn’t the same when he’s not out there, be that at lunch time or in the summer. His smile and wave is infectious. As you drive or walk past, you simply can’t help but smile and wave back.
Another reader named Ami Claxton sent me this in an email:
Mr. Sonny does not know me, and I do not have a child at Northwoods Elementary. However, I find myself frequently driving on that road during crossing guard hours and, without fail, he waves at me. I always wave back and it gives me a smile every time it happens. He is a true ray of sunshine in a jaded world!
Here are some other quotes I found about Sonny from our readers:
“Sonny is absolutely what Cary is all about! He reminds us all of days gone by when folks would sit out on their front porch and wave to passers by. Thanks, Sonny, for reminding us all that there is still good in this world!”
“A hero if there ever was one! Sonny is there for the whole town.”
“I’m so glad my morning commute takes me by Sonny. Every day, I get a friendly wave and, ‘Good morning!’ And I wave back with a big smile on my face.”
“Sonny is the way to start the day! If you don’t have a smile on your face you will after you see Sonny. He is always there waving and smiling. He keeps our kids safe.”
Story by Jessica Patrick. Photo by Chris Adamczyk.