Beloved longtime South Pasadena High School English teacher James Asher passed away Thursday night after being hospitalized earlier in the week.
The upsetting news swept across campus on a morning when emotions were already running high, as the school prepared to say goodbye to the class of 2017 at its annual Farewell Assembly.
2017-18 SPHS Commissioner of Assemblies Anders Keith and 2016-17 Commissioner Charlotte Emerson spoke to the crowd of students and teachers about Mr. Asher as the assembly was just beginning. “Mr. Asher was easily one of the kindest people on campus…He cared about teaching, but more than that he cared about his students. He cared about their intellectual journey and their personal growth. His bright smile and contagious spirit were not only influential to students, but also to teachers. The essence of Mr. Asher is uplifting,” said Keith, before asking for a moment of silence in Mr. Asher’s honor.
South Pasadena Principal Janet Anderson explained that Asher was hospitalized on Sunday, May 28. He had suffered a heart attack and was in a coma before passing away on June 1.
“It is with much sadness that we share information about the passing of our beloved teacher, faculty member, colleague, coach and friend Jim Asher,” said Anderson. “For 17 years, we have been honored to work alongside Jim in his role as high school English teacher and department chair.”
When news began to spread around campus last Friday morning about Asher’s death, Anderson met with his current students in the school’s library. Some, including senior Thomas Huff, found quiet corners of the campus, to grieve Asher’s loss. “It’s tough to hear about it because he seemed to enjoy life more than anyone. Losing someone who had such a huge influence on those at the school is terrible to see.”
Fellow senior Halie Muro said she will miss how Asher would interact with all students on campus. “He would give them words of wisdom,” she said, “and encouraged them to never give up and push on when you graduate. He always had a smile.”
Senior Sophia Lopez, who was in Asher’s AP literature class, said he had a “pure soul, so friendly, so nice. It’s a shame to see him leave, but he will be in our hearts forever. I just loved seeing him every day, and how passionate he was for teaching. He would compose his own music and share it with us. Mr. Asher is going to be deeply missed.”
The announcement of Asher’s death came as the school was preparing to present its annual Farewell Assembly, a school-wide celebration to honor the accomplishments of seniors as they look ahead to graduation day. “With the sad news, students quickly and skillfully changed their agenda for the day’s scheduled Farewell Assembly to include moving and impactful tributes to Mr. Asher,” said Anderson. “It allowed us all a time to come together as a school family to acknowledge our great loss.”
Anderson said she would be sharing more information about Asher with parents in the coming days. The principal added that counseling support is available to all students and staff at the high school.
Asher was serving as English department chair this year and taught AP Literature and English language development. His impact on SPHS, however, was felt far beyond his classroom. He coached tennis at the high school, wrote musicals that he shared with students and performed as a singer.
SPHS junior Brandon Yung didn’t know Asher personally, but heard from other students that “he was deeply involved in the community and a very dedicated teacher.”
Michael Gonzales, a graduate of South Pasadena High who now coaches water polo and is an interim teacher at the school, called Asher “one of the most generous, kind-hearted, warmest faculty members that I had. I always looked forward to walking into his classroom, not so much because of the class, but because of who Mr. Asher was. He was one of the most approachable people I ever met, both as a student and as a colleague. He was one of the first people who greeted me when I came back to South Pasadena High, both as a coach and substitute teacher.”