AUSTIN, Texas — Sometimes, all it takes is a smile or a simple wave to make somebody's day. That was especially true at the corner of Palo Blanco Lane and Pleasant Valley Road in South Austin, just outside of Mendez Middle School.
Those driving past often spotted the familiar and friendly face of 78-year-old Richard Tuttle.
"He would always have that bright smile on his face," said Chelsea Rodriguez, who would see Tuttle almost every day when she drove by.
"Every time I used to get off work, I used to say, 'Hey, buddy!'" said Moses Moreno, who lives nearby.
Tuttle was a crossing guard for 15 years outside of Mendez Middle School. His family told KVUE that he passed away last Friday due to a heart attack.
Since then, a memorial has formed on the street corner where he helped kids safely cross every day for more than a decade.
“The kids really look for someone who’s going to give them safety and protection and to know that he safely walked them across the street and he would be at their aid if he needed. They loved him," Mendez Principal Joanna Rowley said.
Rowley said Tuttle stayed on the same street corner for all the years he worked as a crossing guard.
“Every time you passed by there, it didn’t matter who you were … he always waved at you," Rowley said.
Throughout Monday afternoon, people came to the growing memorial to set down candles, tie up balloons and drop off American flags. It recreated the atmosphere Tuttle brought with him every day.
“He always had a cup of coffee in his hand, he had his flag flying high behind him," Rowley said.
Tuttle's son, Johnny Saldana III, told KVUE that Tuttle was born and raised in North Carolina but moved to Austin and spent most of his life as a master carpenter. He would have been 79 in December.
The family said they're very thankful for all of the support from the community.
Some said his presence brought a sort of father-like figure, and his constant waving and smiling at drivers brought a dose of happiness to the neighborhood.
"Like a grandpa to us," Rodriguez said. “A person that I will always remember, a person that I will always have in my heart and a person that always makes my day."
“Everybody loved him," Moreno said.
Rowley said the memorial was the community's way of saying "thank you" to Tuttle.
"They just want to send their thanks and prayers to him and his family," Rowley said.
The City of Austin Public Works Department handles the crossing guard team and released this statement on the passing of Tuttle:
"Mr. Tuttle was a valuable member of our crossing guard team, whose presence in our community will surely be missed. We are grateful for Mr. Tuttle's years of service and unwavering dedication to making sure our youngest residents get to and from school safely. Our thoughts are with his friends and family at this difficult time."
A private funeral will be held on Wednesday, according to Tuttle's family.
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