Wake County

Beloved Cary crossing guard remembered for kindness

James Alston, also known as Mr. Sonny, with daughter, Sonya Person. Alston, known as Mr. Sonny, has worked at Northwoods Elementary School as a crossing guard for 10 years.
James Alston, also known as Mr. Sonny, with daughter, Sonya Person. Alston, known as Mr. Sonny, has worked at Northwoods Elementary School as a crossing guard for 10 years. Courtesy of Sonya Person

A beloved Cary crossing guard who was a friendly fixture in front of Northwoods Elementary School died Sunday, leaving behind the lesson that even the smallest act of kindness can brighten someone’s day.

James Alston, 68, also known as “Mr. Sonny,” worked as the Northwoods crossing guard for 10 years. While at his post on Chapel Hill Road, Alston not only helped students safely cross the street but greeted everyone that passed with a simple wave and a warm smile.

“Now he is waving at angels in heaven,” Alston’s son, Tyrone Dunston, said Tuesday.

Crystal Hartzell-McAllister, Northwoods Elementary PTA president, said she believed Alston’s memory would live on through his family, the drivers that passed him on their daily commute and, most importantly, the children.

“I think he unknowingly taught every child that passed him that kindness and love really can brighten the world around them,” she said. “It was an honor to know him.”

Alston was found on the floor in his home on Dec. 10 having suffered a stroke. Police were called after drivers noticed Alston had not been at his post since Dec. 8.

He was rushed to WakeMed in Cary and was recovering when he suffered a second stroke on Dec. 15. Doctors performed emergency surgery the following day at WakeMed on New Bern Avenue, but Alston’s condition continued to worsen.

Dunston said his father died at 2:40 p.m. Sunday. He said he did not know when the funeral would be held.

Following his strokes, Alston received more than $11,000 in donations from more than 300 people on a GoFundMe page to help pay for medical bills and other expenses. He also received an outpouring of love via handwritten cards and Facebook.

The donations will now go toward remaining medical expenses and funeral costs, Hartzell-McAllister said.

Since his death, more than 100 people have posted kind words on Facebook about Cary’s beloved crossing guard. Others have shared stories of fond memories with Alston.

Raleigh resident Amanda Hamilton wrote about the impact he made on her 16-year-old daughter, Shelby. One day last year, Hamilton was driving her daughter to physical therapy because of a dislocated knee when they passed Alston waving and smiling on Chapel Hill Road. Hamilton said Shelby had not been in the brightest of spirits because of her injury.

But despite feeling sore, Shelby, with her mother’s permission, jumped out of the car, ran over to Alston and gave him a hug, telling him that his kindness made her feel so much better.

“He’s just a presence that you look forward to seeing,” she said. “He looked right at you and just smiled and you could tell it was just so genuine.”

In Alston’s absence, Cary police have taken over directing traffic, but for many people that spot on Chapel Hill Road will never be the same without Alston.

“He will be so, so missed,” Raleigh resident Lauryn DuPree wrote on Facebook. “I thought he was just ‘our’ jewel at Northwoods, but this has showed that he really was a beacon for the whole community. The best thing we can all do to remember him is to live our lives as Sonny would – extending kindness and joy to everyone.”

Kathryn Trogdon: 919-460-2608, @KTrogdon

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