Next to the handwriting of Thomas Gamblin, a student scribbled a goodbye message to the teacher and coach: “Miss you.”
Gamblin, 48, died of a heart attack during a Thanksgiving Day run. The death of the marathon runner and soldier who recently returned from Iraq shocked his wife, two sons, teaching buddies and students.
“I had to walk down the hall and see that he wasn’t there to see that he wasn’t coming back,” said Will Christman, a fellow U.S. history teacher at Richmond Academy.
Students returned to class Monday, many already having heard the news of Gamblin’s death. The teacher’s nameplate had been removed from the classroom door, and substitute teachers prepared lesson plans to pick up where Gamblin left off.
Gamblin was an award-winning cross country coach for the school, and his students’ test scores prove he excelled as an Advanced Placement psychology teacher, Christman said. Since beginning as a student teacher at Richmond Academy in 1996, Gamblin also taught sociology and coached football and swimming.
An Army member since 1983 and a Foreign Security Forces Combat Advisor, Gamblin served in Iraq from fall 2009 to spring 2011. The school saved a teaching spot, and he returned to the classroom in August.
Gamblin turned down recent military promotions to be with his students and sons, Thorn and Austin. Austin is stationed at Fort Benning, Ga., and was scheduled for deployment in early December.
Longtime friend Hal Thomason stepped in to teach Gamblin’s classes this week. They rode motorcycles together, shared drinks at Helga’s Pub and Grille, and often discussed teaching and raising teenage boys.
“It was obvious he loved his family. He was a family man. He’d do anything for his kids,” Thomason said.
Gamblin, of North Augusta, was training to run down and up the Grand Canyon from rim to rim, a feat he wanted to try with his wife, Suzette Gamblin, who teaches special education at Cross Creek High School.
“He was in incredible shape. Just an incredibly hard rock,” she said. “All he wanted to do was make me happy, and he did. And his boys … he loved his boys.”
The Gamblins were at a relative’s house in Chicago for Thanksgiving. He usually ran 10 to 15 miles each day, and the family knew something was wrong when he didn’t return for dinner.
“The heart can only take so much,” said his wife of 18 year. “He was always super-positive. He never let negativity affect him.”
At Richmond Academy, students have personalized two banners hanging in the hallway and cafeteria with goodbye messages.
A memorial service will be at Julian Smith Barbecue Pit from 1:30 to 4 p.m. Sunday.