HENRICO Co., Va. (WWBT) - Varina High School is honoring a longtime employee and role model who died Saturday afternoon.
Students said James Dawkins was the glue that kept their community together.
“He was just really friendly and would start conversations at lunch or at breakfast,” said Dominique Byer, a senior.
"He had the biggest heart of anybody I've ever met in all my time here at Varina High School," said Assistant Principal Katy Noah.
For more than 45 years James Dawkins worked as a custodian at his Alma mater.
"He’d get out of school and he’s been cleaning that gym ever since,” said Coach Stu Brown, the former head football coach at the school. “You know 46 years in the County, a lot of them here at Varina High School speaks for itself.”
Before graduating in 1972, Dawkins was involved in various school activities working as a student aide and playing for the football team. However, little did Dawkins know in high school what kind of impact he’d leave on students four decades later.
"On any given morning when I’d walk in the cafeteria he would be sitting with a student, one on one, having a conversation with them,” Noah said.
“We mostly talked about sports,” said Jalon Jones, a sophomore.
“The Richmond Flying Squirrels baseball team,” added Ryan Boyd, a senior.
In addition to his custodial duties Dawkins also found time to talk to students in the halls.
“I was walking outside looking a little sad, I was going through stuff, and he just stopped and talked to me,” Byer said. “I was like thank you so much.”
In the hallway just outside the cafeteria is where students have set up a small memorial for Dawkins.
“He’s the most caring generous man I’ve ever met,” Brown said. “James so often gave to others before he looked out for himself.”
That serves true for an act administrators said Dawkins didn’t like people to know about.
“He collected food that the kids didn’t want to eat – say for instance the chicken sandwiches – he collected them and would bring them down to the homeless,” Noah said.
“A lot of people don’t show them they care,” Jones said. “Most of them just throw it in the trash can and that food goes to waste and they cook it for no reason.”
“He’s going to be missed by everybody because he was just a constant,” said Mia Jones, the cafeteria manager. “He was here every day.”
Many employees said Dawkins was also the first person you’d see when arriving at school.
"It feels unreal,” said Keron Dixon, a substitute at the school. “We got here this morning and he wasn't here doing what he does – welcoming everybody, cracking his jokes, being himself."
Dawkins’ loss is even more tough for Addonis Robinson who not only worked with Dawkins, but knew him as a student.
“You’d grow to love him and then when you come back to work with him he’d treat you just the same and treat you like you were one of the kids,” Robinson said.
On Facebook, the school’s football program said “James loved Varina HS and it showed in his interactions with students and staff and his dedication to his job. Rest easy, James, you’ll be missed!”
“For me, he was pretty much the coach’s best friend on a Monday morning,” Brown said. “He’d come in and go why are you sad? We lost. He’d be the one – you didn’t throw the interception, you didn’t throw the ball, you didn’t miss the tackle, you didn’t miss the field goal. So, he always brought it back to making the coach feel good. He’s irreplaceable.”
James Dawkins, a man who has certainly made his impact at Varina High.
“We can get another custodian, we can’t get another James,” Jones said.
"He truly was the Varina legend,” Noah added.
At this time, there’s no word on how Dawkins died.
Copyright 2020 WWBT. All rights reserved.