"He was not a victim," George's wife of six years, Rosemary, insists, adding, "he was protecting and defending someone and he died that way."
Last Tuesday, when a crazed man began stabbing a waitress inside a Bertucci’s Restaurant housed in a shopping mall Taunton, Massachusetts, 56-year-old George Heath didn’t have time to think. Instead, the beloved teacher and avid windsurfer sprung into action, charging the suspect, grabbing him around the waist, and thwarting his relentless attempts to stab anyone within arm’s reach.
While struggling with the knife-wielding man, who police later shot dead and identified as 28-year-old Arthur DaRosa, George was stabbed in the head. He died soon after arriving at an area hospital for treatment, according to his wife, Rosemary Heath, who spoke to PEOPLE Tuesday morning – one week after witnessing her husband’s heroism and death.
“After he was stabbed, he paused for a moment, and fell to the floor,” Rosemary tells PEOPLE. “I heard the off-duty cop” – who ultimately shot and killed DaRosa – “yelling, ‘Drop your weapon,’ so I knew I could bend down to help George.
“I knew it was terrible right away. Just before they took him away in an ambulance, someone came over to tell us he didn’t just save the waitress but that he also saved her baby – because she’s pregnant.”
George was immediately flown by helicopter from Bertucci’s to the emergency room, where doctors pronounced him deceased. En route to the hospital, George suffered a massive heart attack, Rosemary, George’s wife of six years, says.
She adds, “He wasn’t sitting in a seat where he was stabbed. He was protecting and defending someone and he died that way. He just reacted and it was amazing.”
Rosemary says she’s trying to stay positive in the wake of her heartbreaking loss but also says she wasn’t even slightly shocked when her husband intervened last week. A visual design instructor at Greater New Bedford Regional Vocational Technical High School and a father of two, George was always looking out for other people – much like his favorite comic book character, Batman.
“In 2013, we were walking through the Providence Place Mall in Rhode Island and suddenly, he just disappeared,” Rosemary recounts. “Turns out someone had just bought a new phone and they were programming it when a teenager ran by and stole it.”
George gave his wife no warning before chasing after the fleeing thief, whom he tackled to the ground. George held the suspect down while an undercover detective swooped in to arrest the suspect.
“These two women were talking to me and asked, ‘Is he a cop?,’ and I responded, ‘No…he’s a teacher,'” says Rosemary of her dog-loving husband. “That’s just who he was. He was always looking out for other people.”
Rosemary tells PEOPLE that she has managed to stay strong this past week with help from George’s students. Rather than focus on the fact that he’s gone, George’s students have been celebrating their teacher’s life and legacy.
“The students have been focusing on the fact that he died protecting someone,” Rosemary explains. “He was a hero and they don’t want anyone to forget that. They want people to know what kind of a man George was, and it is inspiring them. I’ve been telling them, ‘He loved his students, so do good in school because that is what he would have wanted.'”
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A Tribute of Mismatched Shoes
Rosemary also wants George’s students to remember something her husband would always espouse: If you have to laugh at someone, laugh at yourself.
“About two weeks ago, he wanted to get to school early, so he woke up that morning and got dressed in our closet, as to not wake me up,” Rosemary begins. “When he got to school, he realized he had two different shoes on. Instead of being embarrassed about it, he told everyone what had happened.”
On Friday, in George’s honor, the students and staffers at Greater New Bedford Regional Vocational Technical High School wore mismatched shoes to class.
The students have also printed shirts boasting the teacher’s name emblazoned across the Batman logo, wearing them to class and during a special ceremony held late last week in George’s memory.
“Rather than dwelling on what happened, the students have been sharing their favorite memories of George,” says Rosemary. “That’s what he would have wanted. He didn’t want a church service, he wanted us to throw a party where we could laugh, joke, and have a blast.”
On June 4, George will be remembered during a special event that is being held at White’s of Westport banquet hall and is open to the public.
“It will be a celebration of his life,” Rosemary says. “I’ve been blown away by how positive his students have been through all of this, and thrilled they’ve been praising his life and what he stood for.”
The waitress who George saved, Sheenah Savoy, remains in the hospital, where she continues to recover from her wounds, according to Rosemary, who has already met with Savoy’s family.
During an event honoring her husband last week, Rosemary says Savoy’s friends and relatives found her, and expressed their thanks for her husband’s bravery.
“All of her family members and friends came out and greeted me with hugs and roses,” Rosemary says. “I hope that George is remembered for his life, not his death.”