Closter's Hillside School principal Alfred F. Baffa died Tuesday after suffering a heart attack. He was 61 years old.
The Hillside and Tenakill schools will be closed Monday in his memory.
Colleagues, students and loved ones remember Baffa for his "gentle soul" and "kind heart." Dozens of stories recalling acts of kindness -- both in and out of the schools -- poured in.
"I worked with Mr. Baffa as a paraprofessional and a substitute teacher," Mariana Marinich wrote. "He was the best boss I have ever had. My kids and I remember his kindness, his soft tone of voice, his wit, his smile, and most of all, his fairness to everyone."
Baffa was diagnosed with leukemia at 27 years old and found his brother was a perfect match for a bone marrow transplant, his obituary says.
"After that, he always joked that he felt like a cat with nine lives, but said that he didn’t want to know which life he was on. In more serious conversations, he said that he felt he was living on borrowed time," the obit says.
"That feeling always caused him to appreciate life to the fullest, and put his whole heart into whatever he was doing, personally or professionally."
Baffa also worked in the Old Tappan School District from 1997 to 2001. The district's education association remembered him as a good and loving family man.
Al was supportive and unassuming, a gentle soul with a kind heart. He always put the best interest of the kids of Old Tappan first, and his door was always open to faculty and staff.
Baffa teamed as principal in Old Tappan with Jeff Mohre, who noted his profound impact on many.
"His passion for the education profession, deep concern for children, genuine kindness, and gentle demeanor made him the quintessential school leader," Mohre said.
"Oh the lives he touched ... countless I am certain. A beautiful, bright candle has gone out and we are all deeply saddened. Rest peacefully Mr. Baffa and thank you for making the World a better place."
Former student Matthew Jon Gonzalez said Baffa's "presence was always warm, inviting, and compassionate. As an educator and role model, he succeeded immensely."
Visitation will be at Becker's Funeral Home in Westwood on Sunday, Jan. 13, between 1 and 5 p.m. Funeral mass will be held at 1 p.m. on Monday, Jan. 14, at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church in Tenafly.
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