"He was a true, true Red Elephant."
That sentiment rang throughout the crowd at a candlelight vigil tonight at The Rock, as dozens gathered to celebrate the life of Chris Mance.
Mance had served as Gainesville High School’s principal since 2008.
"It’s often said: ‘They’ll know your works by your fruit,’" said Todd Henry, a longtime friend of Mance. "And Chris Mance sure didn’t labor in vain. It meant something to the people that were here tonight and it meant something to the boys and girls that he dealt with on a daily basis and gave a part of himself to."
Mance died Sunday at the age of 50 after a brief battle with esophageal cancer.
Those who knew him say he’ll be remembered for many reasons.
"This right here shows how many lives he touched," said Antoine Whelchel, who has known Mance since 1999 and is graduation coach at the high school. "He was a phenomenal man, a phenomenal parent, a phenomenal leader.
"He’s going to be deeply missed. This school system and this community have lost a good one. I don’t think he can ever be replaced."
Family, friends and students shared stories and fond memories of the "gentle giant" who never closed his door to anyone.
"His door stayed open all the time, and I think that’s why a lot of students cared about him. And I think that’s why a lot of students came out to support him tonight," Whelchel said.
Zeke Henderson, a senior at Gainesville, shared that opinion.
"Folks are upset because they’ve had that close relationship with him," he said. "It’s not the normal student-principal relationship where there’s the principal and here’s the student. He was like our mentor.
"If you did what Mr. Mance wanted you to do, then you were living the right way."
Henry said Mance loved tradition, and others said that is how his memory can live on at Gainesville
"I think it all comes down to keeping up the traditions of Gainesville," Henderson said. "You keep up with those traditions; you keep up with his memory because that’s what he was all about."
Mance, who was from Rabun County, came to Gainesville in 2008, but previously worked at Elbert County High School and Rabun County High School.
Visitation will be held 4-8 p.m. today at the Gainesville High School gym. The student council will hold a memorial service 9 a.m. Wednesday for students and faculty.
The funeral service will be 1 p.m. Wednesday in the Gainesville High School gym. The middle and high schools will end classes at 11 a.m.