Fort Worth

Western Hills students and faculty say last goodbye to beloved principal

One faculty member estimated that about 300 people, some wrapped in blankets and many fighting back tears, stood in the damp cold for nearly an hour on Friday to honor an administrator they called their friend.

James Wellman, 47, was a longtime educator in the Fort Worth schools. He died of natural causes on Jan.5.

“The last time I remember seeing him was at our potluck for Christmas,” said Michael Jones, a Western Hills High School government and U.S. history teacher. “He had on his apron and he was serving us barbecue. That’s just the kind of person he was. I wanted to be here to honor him one last time.”

Wellman joined the school district in 2000 as a special education teacher at Carter-Riverside High School. He also worked as a special education teacher at South Hills High School. In 2005, he transferred to Western Hills, according to the district.

He began serving as principal there in 2009.

The Western Hills students and faculty are gathering signatures for a petition that asks the school board to name the school’s new field house in Wellman’s honor. T-shirts also were sold at Western Hills last week to begin a college fund for Wellman’s son, Payne Wellman.

“We asked people to donate candles for this memorial and ended up with more than a thousand,” said Karen Hiller, Western Hills program of choice coordinator.

Hiller said that when students found out that Welman had died, they began communicating with America Hutchins, the high school’s student council sponsor, to organize the memorial service.

“We’re just overwhelmed,” Wellman’s widow, Stephanie Wellman, said as the memorial was ending. “We’re just in awe of how much he was loved by his students and faculty. He left a big mark on Western Hills.”

Alexa Villa, an 18-year-old senior cheerleader at Western Hills, said she first met Wellman when she was a freshman. Villa said she was getting kicked out of her biology class during an episode of horseplay instigated by some other students.

Villa explained to Wellman that she was not really as disrespectful as the situation made her seem. After that, Wellman became one of her biggest fans, Villa said.

“He always took time to say hi to me, give me a pat of the back and say something nice,” Villa said. “He cared about this school and everyone in it. He pushed everyone to be something. We wouldn’t be where we are if it wasn’t for Mr. Wellman. He will forever be our angel.”

Mitch Mitchell: 817-390-7752, @mitchmitchel3