On April 11, Andrew Gibson ‘12 passed away in his apartment in Portland, ME after battling a heroin addiction for three years. However, the Andrew that was addicted to drugs is not the Andrew most people remember.
“He’s not really a single memory. He’s an experience,” said Marylou Johnson, who described herself as Andrew’s “school mom.” Johnson said she and Andrew’s mother, Mary Gibson, had a joke that they shared custody of Andrew when he was 18.
Former IACS teacher Celine Nader described Andrew as an “oddly beautiful spirit.”
Johnson elaborated, “It’s hard to put in words, because it’s almost like an energy.”
Andrew loved dirt bikes and The Lord of the Rings trilogy. He worked in construction doing difficult but skilled work. He was funny and a strong creative writer. Andrew may have put on a tough guy persona, but ask anyone and they will say that all it took was thirty seconds of talking with him to know he was entirely the opposite of that.
IACS Social Worker Nancy Tripp said at first glance, “You think he’s the punkiest kid on the earth. But have one conversation with him and you know that’s not true.”
She remembers walking into Math teacher Suzanne Hickey’s knitting choice block and seeing Andrew alongside a group of burly men knitting.
“I had some pretty funny knitting choice blocks in those days,” Hickey remembers.
Those who had the honor of knowing him describe him as genuine at heart. English teacher Ryan Deery remembers the different ways Andrew addressed him.
“It was always, ‘Sir, I need a little extra time on this assignment,’ and I would give him the extra time, and he would say ‘Thanks Chief,’” Deery explained.
Deery said Andrew is the only person he ever would’ve let call him “Chief.” “It felt very real. From everyone else it would’ve felt like affectation or mocking.”
“He was the real deal. He wouldn’t give you the line that he thought you wanted to hear. But that’s one of the things I appreciated about him a lot,” said Tripp.
“For those who never met Andrew you may never know the great person he was. I can honestly say that I never saw or heard of him being cruel, insincere, unkind, or
intolerant of others,” said Sean Flaherty ‘13, who said he and Andrew used to hang out on half days and Andrew would drive him to work.
School was always a struggle for Andrew. He didn’t go to college, but he worked hard at IACS. Ms. Gibson said, “Andrew had difficulty being kind to himself, always focusing on his mistakes and diminishing his successes.” However, teachers and classmates say that the pride Andrew had in his Senior Project, which he completed on dirt bike dynamics, was undeniable.
When asked what he will remember about Andrew, IACS history teacher David Smith (who was Andrew’s Senior Project Advisor) remembers watching him present his Senior Project. “That’s the image I like to have in my mind, because he was really proud of himself, I could tell, in a very subdued, humble way,” he said.
“I will never forget the pride and joy I saw in him during the last few weeks of his senior year. School didn’t come easy for Andrew and he had to work to succeed. The fact that he persevered through it is a testament to his character,” said Flaherty.
“Knowing what I know now, his challenges weren’t really clear to me. He was really polite and respectful and present in class. When he was here he was really here, and I had no idea of the trouble he was experiencing outside of school,” said Smith.
Until recently, the cause of Andrew’s death was still being investigated by the Portland Police and Maine Drug Enforcement Agency. However, Ms. Gibson told the Portland newspaper The Forecaster that she believes he overdosed on a batch of heroin laced with Fentanyl. As she told The Forecaster, “He hadn’t even taken the needle out of his arm.” The Medical Examiner’s report recently confirmed Ms. Gibson’s suspicion.
Ms. Gibson said Andrew started using drugs at age 13 in his hometown of Billerica, MA. It began with marijuana, and eventually progressed to opiates. Andrew relapsed many times over the years, and didn’t realize the extremity of his addiction until he was arrested in 2014 for possession and trafficking of heroin. He went to a sober house called Skip Murphy’s in Portland, ME and started to turn his life around. Ms. Gibson told The Forecaster that she’s not sure why he relapsed.
Andrew’s struggles made his graduation in 2012 all the more celebratory. Tripp said Andrew was so delighted. “I think he was grateful that he found us. I know I’m really grateful that he found us.”
“He was a beautiful person, inside and out. Andrew desperately wanted to be defined outside of his ‘addiction’ and accepted as himself. He struggled with so many demons, and I don’t believe ever really knew how people felt about him. The comments that have been shared on Facebook and in response to the tribute I wrote are what I wish Andrew heard before he passed on. Andrew was creative, smart, charismatic, and a true friend who was always there for you. He will be missed by me who was his number one fan!” said Ms. Gibson.
On Wednesday, April 15, a small community of about 50 friends gathered in Andrew’s apartment in Portland, ME for his first Celebration of Life. His second Celebration of Life was held at his grandmother Rita Gibson’s house in Billerica, MA on Saturday, April 18, and was attended by between 150 and 175 people, Ms. Gibson estimated.
About April 18, Ms. Gibson said, “I was touched by the amount of people who came to remember Andrew. Most of his friends and classmates remembered his laugh that would be infectious to everyone around him. And his smile that would light a room up, as would Andrew.”