WASHINGTON — A well-known school psychologist with DC Public Schools died from the coronavirus last week, according to his family. DCPS said Dr. Zoao Makumbi marks the school system's first death to the virus.
"Words cannot express how this family is deeply in pain," Makumbi's daughter, Florie Matondo, said. "We did not just lose a father, we lost a friend."
The school district said Makumbi worked for DCPS for 25 years. Most recently, 75-year-old Makumbi served as the school psychologist at Houston Elementary School for seven years.
That's where he met school social worker Darryl Webster.
"He would say 'good morning brother Webster!' And I’m not going to have my friend to say hello to," Webster said.
He said he found out about his mentor's death a few days ago.
"He has so much knowledge about psychology and mental health," Webster said. "I just revered the guy."
Matondo said her dad took his job very personally and very seriously.
"He came from the Congo in the village, but he made something of himself," she said.
Matondo said that's what her dad wanted to teach his students, whom he refused to give up on.
"Dr. Makumbi was like the grandfather to a lot of the kids," Webster said. "Usually when people get to a certain age, they want to rest, they want to retire, and he never could retire, because the needs were too great."
Matondo said she asked her dad once why he decided to work in Washington, D.C. His response?
"He said D.C. is where people are needed most to help," Matondo said. "We need to reach out to those kids."
She said he was excited to go to work every day, and when he returned home, he would always talk about his students.
"I’m proud to be his daughter," Matondo said. "The work that he did, I want it to continue."
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Webster said it's not going to be the same when Houston is finally allowed to open its doors again.
"There’s going to be a big void in that space when I go back to school looking into his area and not having him sitting there," Webster said. "He sacrificed, in my opinion, his life for the greater good, and so his legacy in my mind will always be remembered as a person who truly was a humanitarian in every sense of the word."
Houston Elementary School said in a statement, in part:
"Dr. Makumbi was valued in our community and he was committed to ensuring a positive learning environment for every student. His pledge to support the wellbeing of students was apparent every day even during our time of remote learning over the past month. We will always remember Dr. Makumbi for his ability to bring a calming spirit and his dedication to our students with specialized needs."
The school is offering mental health resources to help students cope with the loss, like reading this article.