Junior Brandao, a special education aide at Palo Alto High School and Juana Briones Elementary School, died on July 11 of a pulmonary embolism. He was 56 years old.
Sue Brandao, Junior’s wife, said Junior was known as a calm, kind and resilient man who loved to pursue his passion of helping students with special needs.
“For him, working with special needs kids was important because he would give the kids assurance in his calm demeanor,” Sue said. “He had the same tone of voice even when he was mad — it was unbelievable.”
Junior taught in the Futures Program at Paly starting in October 2020. Kim D’Ewart, whose son, Henry, was a part of the program, said Junior was a teacher who loved seeing his students making little successes.
“He created an environment in the school that was warm and fun, and individualized to every student’s needs so nicely that it just made a comfortable environment for coming back after the pandemic,” D’Ewart said. “He made Henry feel relaxed and not super stressed out.”
D’Ewart said Junior was always in touch with his students’ emotions. He noticed nonverbal cues more than most teachers do, she said, and he would notice things that calmed Henry or upset him.
Junior’s bright aura resonated with not only his students, but also with his fellow teachers. Althea Cardoso, the Paly teacher for the deaf and hard of hearing, said Junior would brighten up any day.
“When you saw Junior come down the hallway, he always had a smile that just would light up your world — he just was a very friendly, outgoing man,” Cardoso said. “I don’t think I ever saw him upset or (with) a frown on his face.”
Prior to working at PAUSD, Junior attended high school and college in his hometown of Sao Paulo, Brazil, where he studied accounting. While working as an aide for families with special needs children, he found his passion and received a degree in Moderate-Severe Disabilities Education from San Jose State University in 2018.
His wife said while studying at San Jose State University, Junior worked several years for Mount Pleasant Elementary School District in San Jose and moved to Palo Alto last year, where he served as Susanne Doi’s aide in her class at Juana Briones.
“He loved teenagers,” Sue said. “What he liked the most was to put special education children in contact with kids in mainstream education to see the kindness of all kids and how important it was for both sides to teach that we’re all the same; we’re still human beings.”
D’Ewart said Junior would go above and beyond to help his students, including going on trips with his students’ families.
“His job was a real part of his identity in a way that not everybody’s job is,” D’Ewart said. “He was the type of person that embraced everybody, because there’s definitely people who are uncomfortable around disabled people, and that’s where he thrived.”
Junior would also frequently provide families updates about how their kids were doing. He sent many texts to D’Ewart with pictures of Henry.
“In June, at the very end of the school year, he sent me an awesome photo of him and Henry together on a field trip and Henry was just smiling in a way that he doesn’t often smile,” D’Ewart said. “I think it was one of the last, if not the last text I got from Junior. It was just this beautiful photo of Junior with his mask on and Henry had his mask off because he was eating something, and (he just had a) big smile, and it just brings tears to my eyes when I look at it.”
When he wasn’t working as a teacher aide, Junior enjoyed spending time with his family, including Sue, who he had been married to since 1994, and his two cats.
“He was a cat lover,” Sue said. “We always joked that they were our babies.”
Junior loved to be outdoors, and frequently enjoyed hiking and camping. Sue said he could never resist a camping trip, even when it was raining. He also was an avid surfer, hitting up his favorite surfing spots at Linda Mar and Capitola.
“Surfing was his passion; he loved the ocean,” Sue said. “He had this connection with water, and he really was a pretty good surfer.”
But even more important to Junior was his love of God. He was an active member of the Menlo Church San Jose, where he served in the children’s ministry.
“He loved God above and beyond anything in his faith,” Sue said. “I think it made him even more special because whatever he did, he showed his passion. He was a wonderful husband, a very kind person and a very wonderful friend.”