The Liberty community is mourning the death of Richard "Dickie" Emery, pictured with his wife Johann, who died on Tuesday while at work at Walker Elementary School. Community members say they will miss Emery's kindness and support. Credit: Courtesy of Tammy Reynolds

A custodian died at an elementary school in Liberty on Tuesday after suffering what officials called “a medical event.”

Richard “Dickie” Emery was found in the school gymnasium of Walker Elementary School in Liberty around 10 a.m., RSU 3 Superintendent Charles Brown said, and paramedics pronounced him dead on the scene. Students were just arriving at school due to a delayed start, but staff were able to direct them away from the gymnasium.

He “suffered a medical event,” Brown said.

The 65-year-old worked for 47 years at Walker School, a rural school that presently has just 55 students and is being remembered for how he went above and beyond for the community.

“He was integral to the school and town of Liberty. He was beloved by everybody,” Brown said.

Over his four decades at Walker School, Emery served the community beyond his job duties as a custodian, Brown said. He supported students going through hard times, helped with community events held at the school after hours, and delivered food to students to check in on them at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic with his wife, current Walker Elementary School secretary Johann Emery.

“It was like he was the custodian of the spirit of the school, not just the bathrooms or wastebaskets,” said Elise Brown, Liberty’s Emergency Management Agency director and a parent of former students.

On Tuesday, students were released from school at noon. Classes were also canceled on Wednesday, but RSU 3 administration kept the building open for staff, students and residents to gather, mourn and seek counseling if they wanted it.

“We’re confronting it with the kids and being honest so that they can handle this and process it appropriately,” Brown said. “It’s a true event that happens in life and we’re not trying to worm our way around it.”

A benefit potluck dinner and campfire is planned for Thursday, Jan. 26 at 5 p.m. at the Liberty Community Hall, 3 Serenity Lane. Donations will go toward supporting Emery’s family.

Richard Emery, along with his wife, Johann Emery, will also be honored for their dedication to the school by the Town of Liberty, which chose to dedicate this year’s town report to them, said Tammy Reynolds, a former Walker School student, friend and the Liberty road commissioner. That was decided before Richard Emery died.

“It’s not just that Dickie died at the school, but that he lived at the school. He was as much a part of the school as the pillar that stands out front,” she said.