From the time Joseph Buckley was a child, he had a love of exploration and learning that would one day bring him back to teach math at Wilson High School, his alma mater.
Buckley began teaching at Wilson in 2010, and continued teaching throughout his more than four-year battle with brain cancer, to which he ultimately succumbed at his Takoma home on Sept. 19.
Buckley, who was 38, is survived by his wife Abena Apau-Buckley and their two young children. A memorial service was held in the Wilson auditorium on Sunday, where family and friends spoke about their memories of Buckley.
Growing up in the Tenleytown area, Buckley attended Janney Elementary School, Deal Middle and then Wilson High. After teaching in New York City for three years, Buckley returned to the District and taught at St. John’s College High School. Then, in 2010, Buckley returned to his alma mater.
Apau-Buckley said her husband was drawn to helping students who had trouble connecting with the material, and wanted to show them that learning was cool. He would run experiments with his classes to show the practical applications of math. “He liked making math come alive for students, so that it wasn’t just about doing math, but they understand the real world of math,” Apau-Buckley told The Current.
Mark Jackson, a friend of Buckley’s from middle and high school, spoke at the service about his memories of Buckley’s early love of math. In seventh-grade algebra, as Jackson was pretending not to like math to seem cool, Buckley was open about how much he loved learning.
“Throughout my life, getting to know him, it became clear that … beyond all his other good traits, he was really passionate about learning and teaching,” Jackson said.
When he was a Wilson student, Buckley began working in a program through St. Columba’s Episcopal Church that provided mentoring to students at a D.C. elementary school, and then followed those students through their educational careers. One of the students he worked with, Sam Collins, spoke about how Buckley was patient in mentoring him.
“He really cared about us,” Collins said. “He really paved the way, and he showed an example of what young people are supposed to do.”
Buckley was diagnosed with brain cancer in 2013 after having a seizure right before the birth of his first child. After completing cancer treatments in 2014, Buckley immediately returned to teach at Wilson, Apau-Buckley said. At first Buckley rode in a car to work, but soon began riding his bike again, as he had done before the diagnosis.
Interested in woodworking ever since childhood, Buckley created a dining room table, a bed and dressers for both himself and his wife, his father John Buckley said at the service. Most of the furniture was of his own design, including the dresser her made for his wife as an engagement gift.
Joseph Buckley’s sisters Martha and Monica also spoke at the service, with Monica telling of how Buckley was always the adventurous sibling. He once drove the family car around the District to run errands as a young teenager — something he only admitted to his parents 16 years later, Monica said.
When Buckley was fighting cancer, he would be the one to comfort his sister when he got bad news, telling her that it would be OK.
“He fought with dignity, courage and acceptance throughout the surgeries, the radiation, the chemotherapy,” Monica said. “He never asked why this had happened. Instead, he reflected as a mathematician that if you truly understand statistics, which he did, you can’t ask, ‘Why me?’”