ELIZABETHTON, Tenn. (WJHL) – Members of the community are mourning following the news of the passing Dr. Josh Wandell.
Wandell was a former local elementary school principal who was diagnosed with ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, back in 2013.
The “Team Wandell” Facebook page made a post on Saturday announcing that he had passed away surrounded by family and friends.
Friends of Wandell who have been with him through his battle with ALS said they cannot believe he’s gone. “You always hear this phrase that he’s going to a better place. That’s what it boils down to, no more pain,” said T.J. Brown.
Brown was the librarian at East Side elementary school in Elizabethton where Wandell was principal. He said throughout the years, they had grown closer, and Brown considered him one of his best friends.
Brown said he was able to see Wandell on Saturday before he passed. While he said he was in and out of it, he’s happy to see he’s no longer in pain. However, he said the thought of Wandell actually being gone is a hard pill to swallow.
“I think you always thought that Josh was always going to be around and I mean even if I didn’t see Josh for a few days, I figured he’s just over in Elizabethton. I could send him a text or something like that but that’s no longer the case,” said Brown.
Childhood friend, Adam Walton, said he knew little of ALS before Wandell’s diagnosis. He said he’s learned a lot about the disease but mainly how to make the most of the time you have left.
“He was basically given a death sentence 6 and a half years ago but look at how he approached that and how he lived his life and taught others,” said Walton.
Even though they said they knew the end would come someday, the news of his passing was still shocking. “We knew that this day would come but still it felt like a shot in the gut when you hear that,” said Walton.
His friends told News Channel 11 that he never let his diagnoses win and that he continued doing the things he loved such as competing and running despite his disease.
“It’s just the way that he approached life and the way that people look up to him. He was a natural leader and it’s just something that if you look back on what he did, it was really remarkable how he was able to do the things he did,” said Walton.
While the “Team Wandell” Facebook page has not yet announced a celebration of life ceremony for Wandell, Brown said there will be a celebration for him at Elizabethton high school on Friday, February 21st from 4:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.