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Teacher who inspired students to sing at his window dies from cancer

Ben Ellis, a beloved teacher who inspired 400 students to sing gospel hymns outside his window as he battled cancer, has died.
/ Source: TODAY

The beloved teacher who inspired 400 high school students to sing gospel hymns outside of his window to show their appreciation for him has died after a battle with esophageal cancer.

Ben Ellis, a father of five and a Latin and Bible teacher at Christ Presbyterian Academy in Nashville, Tennessee, passed away Friday, according to his wife, Shelley.

"My sweet Benny went home to be with Jesus early this morning,'' she wrote on the family's CaringBridge journal. "His last hours were easy and beautiful. I am overwhelmed with sadness and sorrow and unsure of what tomorrow will bring but I am joyfully confident that my Benny is with Jesus and fully aware of the Lord's goodness and love towards me."

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A video of a visibly moved Ellis watching out his window and singing along with the students in front of his home has been viewed more than 30 million times since being posted on Facebook by country star Tim McGraw.

"The example of love and kindness that showed in his heart through his teaching has impacted so many of his students, and through them has and will continue to impact the world," wrote McGraw in a touching Instagram tribute to Ellis.

Ellis had still been teaching while undergoing chemotherapy and radiation treatments for esophageal cancer — until two weeks ago. His family decided to stop treatment Sept. 7 as the cancer had rapidly spread to his lungs, according to his CaringBridge journal.

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Ellis, whose five children all attend Christ Presbyterian Academy, was a beloved presence among the students, who decided to sing to him after hearing about his decision to discontinue treatment.

"Ben was a gift to us all in the most unassuming and life-giving way,'' headmaster Nate Morrow told TODAY in a statement. "Even in the process of his death, he selflessly encouraged and empowered individuals to find life in Jesus. Now Ben and his Lord are fully together, yet his family and his students remain and we grieve deeply."

Once the students and administrators received word of Ellis' grave condition, they decided in the spur of the moment that morning to make the trip to his home in Nashville.

Ben Ellis was a beloved teacher at Christ Presbyterian Academy who is survived by his wife, Shelley, and their five children, all of whom attend the school.Christ Presbyterian Academy

"It was a place where the veil between heaven and Earth felt very thin,'' Christ Presbyterian headmaster Nate Morrow told TODAY about the scene. "Ben said back to the students that he loved them and that they need to continue to love each other as well."

"It was beautiful and unforgettable,'' Ellis wrote in a post on his CaringBridge page.

Follow writer Scott Stump on Twitter.