Newspaper article The Tuscaloosa News

Mayor Walt Maddox Leads Tornado Remembrance by Reading to Local Elementary Students

Newspaper article The Tuscaloosa News

Mayor Walt Maddox Leads Tornado Remembrance by Reading to Local Elementary Students

Article excerpt

All eyes were fixated on the mayor.

Most people wouldn't think of that as an uncommon predicament for Walter Maddox, a man who's been mayor of the city for the last eight years and led Tuscaloosa through one of its toughest ordeals -- the April 27, 2011 tornado.

But on this occasion, he was nervous, he admitted.

Those staring eyes, seemingly unblinking, watched his every move. And the mouths of the little ones whom those eyes belonged to remained closed in utter silence as Maddox held their attention.

"People came to us and now we're paying it forward," Maddox said, reading the last few pages of the children's book, "Molly and the Tornado," to Linda Hargrove's fourth-grade class at Alberta Elementary School Tuesday morning.

"Molly thought what it meant to pay it forward," he read. "Matt said it means when someone does something nice to you, you do something nice to them."

When Maddox finished reading the story of Molly, a Dalmatian who's life was flipped upside down when an EF5 tornado struck Greensburg, Kan., he asked the students if they remember the EF4 tornado that cut a path of destruction through Tuscaloosa, particularly Alberta.

Nearly all of them raised their hands.

"I was inside of my house when it happened," one student said.

Though they were very young when they experienced the storm, the April 27, 2011, tornado will always be something the students of Alberta Elementary will remember, said Brenda Parker, principal of the school.

"I think that we'll always deal with it," Parker said. "It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience that I think will always be there. But I do think that what we have now is more of an appreciation of people. We have better knowledge of what we can do to help people when they are going through difficult times.

"In the third year now (since the tornado), we've gone through some of those more emotional moments. This is something our younger children will tell their grandchildren."

Maddox, Tuscaloosa City Councilman Kip Tyner and Sgt. Christopher James of the Tuscaloosa Police Department, all read "Molly and the Tornado" to Alberta Elementary classes Tuesday as part of City Hall's week-long tornado commemoration.

Maddox said he was inspired when he learned that so many of Alberta Elementary's students were impacted by the tornado.

"When they began talking about their own experience of hearing the tornado come through, it makes it very real. It makes it very personal. And to me, it reinforces our desire to make sure that we build back in such a way that honors those who have lost so much. …

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