By JUDY SHERIDAN
Aledo ISD teacher Traci Cottrell, who has helped Aledo ISD students sidelined by injuries or illnesses keep up with their schoolwork for more than a decade, was used to collecting assignments, heading to students’ homes and pulling up a chair at the kitchen table.
Spending time, one-on-one, she really got to know her pupils, but she never imagined that one of them would become her hero.
“Seeing people get better has been one of my job’s greatest gifts,” Cottrell said. “This was ... different, but an incredible joy.”
Cottrell — now both sad and relieved, heartbroken but comforted — is the teacher who instructed 18-year-old Eric Willoughby, an Aledo ISD student who died Jan. 13 after a three-year struggle with bone cancer.
She spent countless hours with him, as a teacher and as a friend, and was there with his family — parents, Kelly and Tara, sister Kristen and brother Phillip — when school officials brought his Aledo High School diploma to his bedside, six hours before he died.
Nicknamed “Superman,” Eric was an amazing person, Cottrell said — lovable and smart, laid-back and funny, sarcastic and unfailingly polite — and he had attracted a close-knit band of friends.
They called themselves “The Dubs”: Tyler Lewis, Tyler Byrd, Blake Cretsinger, Chandon Nichols, Brayden Hays, Cole Turner, Phillip Willoughby, Brad Norman and Matt Kszyminski.
“They would have done anything for him,” Cottrell said. “They were there from beginning to end, even though it was hard.
“They shaved their heads when his hair fell out. They used his initials as tattoos.
“And they were there in the room when he passed.”
Cottrell met Eric, who would have graduated in 2013 had it not been for his illness, when he was diagnosed in February of 2011.
At the time she was also tutoring Leah Vann, recently diagnosed with leukemia.
Leah and Eric’s diseases both went into remission, Cottrell said, but while Leah recovered and graduated last spring — remembering Eric to her classmates as she did so — Eric’s cancer returned with a vengeance, making him too ill to attend.
“His mom was so great about keeping me in the loop,” Cottrell reflected, saying she has become very close to Eric’s family. “When he got better we cried and celebrated. And she called when it came back.”
Eric never complained about his diagnosis, treatment and struggles, Cottrell said.
“He just pressed on,” she said, “making the most of life.”
Cottrell said Eric’s family is grateful for all those who stood by Eric through the years, including Preston Tyson, Maddison Roberts, Kendall Birchmier, Ethan Nichols, Matt Tedder, Shawn Albright, Noah Wilson and others.
Eric told her he loved her before he died, Cottrell said.
“I’ve had my closure,” she said, “but I miss his voice, his smile and our conversations about life. I miss bringing him treats from Sonic and hearing him sing as he did his work.”
Aledo ISD student dies surrounded by family, teacher and friends
By JUDY SHERIDAN
- Aledo ExtrA
Hitting the trail for MS
STEPHENVILLE – The Cowboy Capital MS Trail Ride is a fun-filled event dedicated to raising funds that support national research into the cause and cure for Multiple Sclerosis as well as provide programs to more than 9,000 people in the Lone Star Chapter area whose lives are touched by MS.
Parker County man killed in single-vehicle wreck
A 60-year-old Parker County man was killed around 9:30 a.m. Tuesday in a one-vehicle crash in the 2100 block of FM Road 3325, also known as Farmer Road.
Aledo City Council Place 4 candidates for May 10 election
Early voting for the May 10 general election begins April 28. Following is some information gathered from the candidates for the Place 4 Aledo City Council seat. Aledo Mayor Kit Marshall is running for re-election unopposed.
Aledo City Council Place 2 candidates
Early voting for the May 10 general election begins April 28. Following is some information gathered from the candidates running for the Aledo City Council Place 2 seat. Aledo Mayor Kit Marshall is running for re-election unopposed.
USAF heroes to Ride for Heroes
The 12th annual Ride for Heroes bike ride this Saturday in Aledo will include some VIPs: members of the United States Air Force Cycling Team.
FM 5 intersection makeover
City of Willow Park officials were recently told that a planned reconstruction of the intersection of Interstate 20 frontage roads and FM Road 5 now has funding from the state and is moving ahead.
Bearcat Bootcamp holds successful fundraiser
Bearcat Bootcamp, an Aledo fitness organization, held its first 1-mile Fun Run and Back the Bearcats 5K race April 5.
Hearing held for Annetta Crime Control District
The Crime Control and Prevention District proposed for the Town of Annetta — which voters have the chance to accept or reject in the May 10 election — moved forward last week with an April 7 public hearing.
Candidate forums set for May 10 election
The East Parker County Chamber of Commerce Legislative Affairs Committee will host a Candidates’ Forum at 7 p.m. Monday, April 28, in the cafeteria of Trinity Christian Academy, 4954 East Interstate 20 Service Rd S, Willow Park.
Calendar of events
The East Parker County Genealogy and Historical Society invites all who are interested to join them for their monthly meeting and salad luncheon beginning at 10:30 a.m. in the Willow Park Community Center, Ranch House Rd. and Stage Coach Trail. The program will be a computerized photography collage of Parker County photos by Lorena Friddle, president of the Parker County Women’s and Newcomer’s Society, and a 1930s video of the El Chico Ranch in Willow Park donated by early resident Bob Rothel. The video was made when his father was the ranch foreman. If time allows there will be a showing of an 1920s movie of Aledo donated by the King family.
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