Brenton Owen Wan married Yvonne June Dalley 35 years ago. She really was “the girl next door.”
Fifty years ago, Wan and his family moved next door to the Dalleys in Montego Bay, Jamaica. From Jamaica to South Florida, bonds were built over childhood teasing, teenage romance, marriage and the next generation.
Wan, an avid photographer who documented both families from his teen years onward along with Jamaican landscapes and its culture, died of cancer July 25, a day after his 60th birthday.
Family members and his students at South Plantation High School, where he taught English for eight years, speak of a quietly strong, inspirational man.
“He was my brother-in-law, but I’ve known him my entire life, so he was like a brother,” said Margaret Dalley-Johns, Yvonne’s younger sister. They met because Wan and two of his three brothers were pals with Hanif Dalley, the girls’ brother who had invited the Wan boys to their house because the Dalleys had a television set.
And they had Yvonne. But Wan wasn’t quite tuned into her yet. There were trees to climb, games to play and other ‘little boy things’ to do first.
Dalley-Johns laughs at a particular memory. “The first day he saw my sister, he threw a stone at her and ran away. When they were kids — 10, 11, 12 — they never got along, they were always fighting.”
At 17, Wan finally got a clue. He asked Dalley out to a soccer match. Her sister was 10 and intrigued.
“After that, I remember spying on them, and they were hugging and I was thinking, ‘What’s going on?’ ” Dalley-Johns said with a chuckle. The couple dated for four years and married in August 1979. “He’s been her only boyfriend her entire life.”
The couple moved to Miami Gardens the month after they married, and later settled in Miramar. They raised two sons, Kearey and Andrew.
When Kearey married Alyssa Razook in October, Wan, by then battling cancer, delivered a speech at the wedding to say how grateful he was to be there for the occasion.
“So touching,” Dalley-Johns said. “He handled his illness so well. A few months ago he told my sister, ‘I am a happy man with cancer.’ That type of outlook was just inspiring.”
Wan, who earned a degree in theology from West Indies College in Jamaica and a master’s in communications at Florida International University in 1997, similarly inspired his students.
“So very sad to say RIP to my former high school English teacher. I was truly looking forward to working with you at South [Plantation] for my first year of teaching. You inspired me to become a teacher. I will never forget you,” posted Andriana B on Facebook.
“He was such an inspirational person. I would send him countless projects to read, varying from my group 30-page business paper to my college essays, and on top of all the schoolwork he had to grade he would always return it in a reasonable amount of time,” posted Alexia S. Clark.
“Mr. Wan didn’t treat me as a student, he treated me as his child and made me know the sky is the limit,” Clark wrote. “When I told him I was accepted into [the University of Florida], his joyful reaction helped me decide UF is the place for me.”
In addition to his wife, sons and in-laws, Wan is survived by his mother, Lassil Hyacinth Wan, and brothers Orville, Frederick and Cornell.
Visitation is scheduled for 7 to 9 p.m. Thursday at Fred Hunter’s Funeral Home, 6301 Taft St., Hollywood, with a service at 11 a.m. Friday at Maranatha Seventh-day Adventist Church, 18900 NW 32nd Ave., Miami Gardens.