Meghan’s former high school hosted a celebration in her honor on Tuesday, and the topic of conversation quickly turned to Meghan’s dad, Thomas Markle, who was once a fixture at the school. He is now at the center of the unexpected drama surrounding the upcoming wedding after he said he will no longer be attending the wedding or walking his daughter down the aisle.
“Her dad was so good,” Christine Knudsen of Immaculate Heart High School (Meghan’s alma mater) told PEOPLE during the school celebration. “He voluntarily came over and helped with lighting. He was working on a TV show doing lighting. He did lighting for our plays and musicals. Even after Meghan graduated, he still came back. The kids all knew him as ‘Mr. Markle in the overalls.’ He always had overalls on.”
The former lighting director on TV shows such as Married…With Children and General Hospital, was married to Meghan’s mother, yoga instructor Doria Ragland, until they divorced in the ’80s. When Meghan was a budding actress at Immaculate Heart school in L.A., her dad would help with the sets for plays.
“People would go, ‘That’s Meghan’s father?’ But he was a genuinely good, kind, loving man,” Knudsen added. “You could tell how much he loved his daughter and how proud he was of her. He just wanted to be here and help her do what she loved.”
Another teacher expressed the same thoughts.
“I didn’t know her dad that well, but he was quite a figure around school because as she went ahead theology teacher, said. “Even after Meghan graduated, he continued to help out for at least two or three years. He was someone I said hello to all the time — a very pleasant man, very nice.”
On Tuesday, it was announced that Meghan’s father will not be attending the royal wedding after much back and forth.
Thomas told TMZ that he was set to undergo heart surgery at 7:30 a.m. on Wednesday, and would not be able to walk his daughter down the aisle at her wedding on Saturday.
“They [doctors] will go in and clear blockage, repair damage and put a stent where it is needed,” he said.
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On Monday, Thomas told TMZ that he had suffered a heart attack last week, but had checked himself out of the hospital so he could attend Meghan’s wedding to Prince Harry. On Tuesday, He told TMZ that he was back in the hospital, suffering from chest pains. After spending time in the hospital on Tuesday, doctors told him that he would need to undergo surgery on Wednesday morning. He said that the heart attack he reportedly suffered last week caused major damage.
Also on Monday, Thomas said he would not attend the wedding in order to avoid embarrassing the royal family and his daughter after it was revealed that he staged photographs ahead of the royal wedding. Then on Tuesday, he told TMZ that he wanted to make it to London to walk Meghan down the aisle, pending his health. He said he received texts from Meghan telling him that she wanted him to be present for her wedding.
“I hate the idea of missing one of the greatest moments in history and walking my daughter down the aisle,” he said. “Of course I’d walk her down the aisle. This is a historic moment. I’d like to be a part of history.”
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Meghan and Harry’s office at Kensington Palace issued a statement on Monday underlining that her father’s vow not to come over to the U.K. was a “deeply personal moment” for the 36-year-old. The palace had no additional comment.