GILBERT – Tragedy struck Wednesday, as the death of incoming Mingo County Central High School teacher, Joseph Allen Birchfield, shook the county.
“Mingo County Schools and Mingo Central High School mourn yesterday’s loss of a veteran educator,” a statement to the Daily News from Mingo County Superintendent, Randy Keathley, said.
The sudden death of one of the new school’s teachers comes mere days before the beginning of the school year. MCHS is set to open its doors Aug. 22.
“Joseph Allen Birchfield, a mathematics teacher, became ill while he and his colleagues were preparing for the new school year to begin,” the statement continued. "Despite heroic efforts by the school staff and emergency responders, attempts to revive Mr. Birchfield were unsuccessful.”
He was transported to the emergency room at Williamson Memorial Hospital where he later passed away.
No cause of death was given.
Birchfield began his teaching career at Gilbert Junior High School in 1984 and transferred to Gilbert High School in 1996. He taught at GHS until the closure of that school this year.
Gilbert Mayor Vivian Livingood told the Daily News that Birchfield was “very polite, cordial to everyone.”
“He was held in high esteem by the community and respected by his peers. He strived to give his students a quality education,” Livingood said.
Livingood said that she had worked with him at the middle school and was “in shock” when she had heard about his death.
“I heard people saying how excited he was to teach at the new school. My deepest sympathies go out to his family and loved ones,” Livingood said.
Birchfield was an avid supporter of the Gilbert Lions for many years, Keathley said. Livingood said that he was Gilbert’s number one fan.
“He was a devoted fan of all GHS sports and was the assistant coach for the girls’ basketball team,” his obituary, which is in today’s edition of the Daily News, read.
"He will be greatly missed by both his colleagues and students,” Keathley said in his statement.
There is a Facebook page dedicated to Birchfield, titled “In memory of Joe Birchfield!”
As of presstime, it had 894 members.
“R.I.P Mr. Birchfield. You will be greatly missed by everyone. You were a friend to all, a great teacher, and Gilbert’s biggest fan,” one person posted to the memorial’s Facebook wall.
Another person posted, “Wonderful teacher and great man. You will be missed by so many. God Bless!”
According to the statement, Keathley was attending a meeting nearby when Birchfield became ill, and immediately traveled to MCHS after hearing of the emergency.
At a meeting of the school staff, he expressed his appreciation for their assistance and quick action.
Later, upon learning of Birchfield's passing, Keathley stated, "We are all shocked and saddened by the loss of Joe Birchfield. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family and friends."
Birchfield was 53-years-old.