Several dozen family members, friends and elected officials gathered at a candlelight vigil Saturday to honor three Cobb County educators who died from COVID-19.

The outdoor vigil at McEachern Memorial United Methodist Church in Powder Springs celebrated the lives of Dana Johnson, Patrick Key and Cynthia Lindsey. Key died on Christmas Day. Johnson and Lindsey died within hours of each other on Jan. 21.

The 90-minute ceremony was filled with tears, laughs and calls for those gathered to live with joy and to take the pandemic seriously. Cobb education leaders have been criticized for the district’s response during various moments of the pandemic, including some who didn’t wear face masks during a January school board meeting.

“I want people to know this isn’t a joke and it’s affecting people,” Lindsey’s daughter, Lindsey Cowles, 23, who was named after her mother’s maiden name, said about the pandemic during an interview after the vigil.

The vigil was organized by several Cobb teachers who wanted to remember the educators and their service. The school district’s superintendent, Chris Ragsdale, spoke and several school board members attended.

Carla Brown, who said she and Johnson were like family, remembered Johnson’s strong religious faith, how she liked to dance and how she encouraged her students to believe in themselves. Johnson, she said, frequently attended high school graduation and college commencement ceremonies of former students. Johnson taught in Savannah and DeKalb County before spending the last 14 years teaching at Kemp Elementary School.

“Cobb County was lucky to have her,” Brown said.

Key’s niece, Heather Welch, spoke tearfully about his kindness and dedication to teaching about art. He spent his entire 24-year teaching career in Cobb, at Clarkdale, Austell and Hendricks elementary schools and taught summer art camps at Kennesaw State University.

“He taught me to find the joy in everything,” Welch said.

A scholarship fund named after Key was created after his death for Cobb educators to have the supplies needed for students to learn and explore all types of art media. The Georgia House of Representatives passed a resolution in Key’s memory in late January.

Cynthia Lindsey spent 13 years in the Cobb system. Her close friend, Janet Givler, a nurse, recalled how she went “all out” for her students during Halloween and other school celebrations. Givler ended her remarks, as she said Lindsey would have desired, with prayer. She prayed for national heal and from COVID-19.

“Give us the strength to keep going,” Givler prayed. “Remind us to find the joy in each day.”