The start of school is usually a joyous time, especially for teachers returning to the classroom.

But there is a palpable sense of sadness among many Anoka-Hennepin and St. Francis educators who are still mourning the  loss of Gary Christofferson, the Education Minnesota field representative who was killed last week in a car accident near Andover. His memorial service was Monday.

Christofferson, 62, was an integral piece of the two teachers unions. As a field representative, it was his job to assist union members in everything from contract negotiations to accessing benefits.

"If a teacher was diagnosed with cancer and was unsure of what their leave allowed, they'd call Gary," said Julie Blaha, president of the Anoka-Hennepin teachers union. "If a teacher was accused of something by a parent, Gary was the person to sit in on that meeting. From the best of times to the worst of times, he was always there."

Christofferson worked with the two unions over the past decade. Before that, he was logtime teacher and coach at the Cambridge-Isanti Public School District. Prior to coming to work in Education Minnesota's Coon Rapids office in 2003, he worked for the state teachers union in Willmar.

He was described as a quiet, behind the scenes kind of guy who loved to post inspirational sayings in his office. His favorite was the simple "Life is Good."

"He was a great listener and always had time for others," wrote Laura Bratland, an Andover Elementary teacher. "I remember hearing from colleagues of mine who the misfortune to be in buildings that were closing and had to leave their community school for another building, how he supported them. Not only did Gary come to their buildings to help them through this transition, but also was willing to take calls anytime, day or night. He was there to make sure they were heard and let them know he was there for them. He always talked about what an honorable an important job it was to be a teacher."

Blaha said union members are trying to decide how to best memorialize Christofferson who is survived by his wife, a son and a daughter. 

"I know Gary would want us to focus on building the best relationships with students," Blaha said.