As students at Dalton High School return to classes today, a longtime teacher and friend's smiling face will be missing.
English teacher Demera Robinson died in a Tuesday morning crash on Interstate 75.
"She was more than just a teacher, she was a friend. I wouldn't have gotten through high school without her," said former student Kaitlyn Felker, who graduated in 2008.
Georgia Department of Public Safety spokesman Gordy Wright said Robinson died shortly after 11 a.m. when her vehicle struck the rear of a tractor-trailer while driving south on the interstate near the Rocky Face exit.
She had taught at Dalton schools for 12 years and was the daughter of the school's principal, Debbie Freeman, according to a Dalton Public Schools news release.
Danny Freeman, Robinson's father, said she was a beautiful daughter, mother and teacher.
"She just lit up the world when she walked into rooms," he said.
The 34-year-old Ringgold resident is the mother of a 9-year-old son, Cash, and a 4-month-old son named Slayde, Freeman said.
Freeman said his daughter was traveling from her home to work meetings when the crash happened.
On Monday, Robinson had sent a "happy birthday" message to a former student who graduated more than three years ago.
Jaimie Brown said she got the message in New York City, where she is traveling with family. On Tuesday another message came as she was about to get on the subway, she said.
Her grandfather called her to tell her Robinson had died.
"It was very sad news," she said. "Just thinking about her I can just see her smiling face."
Brown, who graduated in 2007, and other former students of Robinson said she would make time to connect with them outside of the classroom and stay in touch even after they graduated.
"She was an absolute doll," Felker said. "She was my favorite teacher, she touched my life and helped me out with anything I needed."
Steve Bartoo, associate principal of Dalton High School, said in a statement that Robinson was an "excellent teacher who devoted herself to her students and her family."
Robinson worked with the school's College Insight/AVID program, designed to give support for students working to be the first members of their families to attend college.
The school's superintendent reiterated how much the loss would affect students and staff.
"Mrs. Robinson was a vital part of our high school, and we are keeping her family, including her parents Debbie and Danny Freeman, in our thoughts and prayers," said Dr. Jim Hawkins, schools superintendent. "We are a family at Dalton Public Schools, and this is a sad day for our school district."
All Dalton High School activities scheduled Tuesday were postponed, and more counselors are available today for students returning to classes, the news release stated.
Freeman said the family planned to make funeral arrangements today.