Teresa Mills, 52, was a short, sassy lady. She liked to poke her coworkers, grab their cheeks and beat them with balls of pizza dough. And everybody loved her.
Mills passed away Tuesday afternoon in her home.
Christa King, a custodian at the Atrium, called Mills a "leaning post" for a lot of people, offering real advice for problems at work and in life.
"She's probably the best employee we have here," King said.
Mills has worked at the Atrium Food Court for more than eight years, and most recently she worked at Sbarro.
Brad Morgan, a custodian at the Atrium, said it would take two or three workers to replace her.
King said Mills has only missed one day of work in the last three years, and when she didn't show up for work two hours into her shift Tuesday, coworkers got nervous.
Mary Evans, who was covering Mills' shift at Sbarro on Wednesday afternoon, said workers started to notice around 1 p.m. Tuesday that Mills wasn't at work.
"We knew something was wrong, but we didn't want to think about that," she said.
Around 3 p.m. Tuesday, Don Mills, Teresa's husband, called and said he had found her dead at home, the result of an apparent heart attack. Don could not be reached by telephone Wednesday night.
King said Mills was ornery, but she was great.
"She'd knock me down in Sbarro's, knock the hell out of me with dough balls," King said. "She jacked with me all the time."
Deborah Ring had worked with Mills at the food court since 2006.
"She was like a rock," Ring said. "She was the one I could lean on."
Stories of first impressions were usually interesting. For Ring, she was intitated into the ranks of the food court workers by having Mills throw dough balls in her face.
Mills' constant pranks were all in good fun, Ring said.
Octavia Clairmont, a junior telecommunications major, said she would always try to make her schedule so she worked the same shifts as Mills. Tears rolled down her face as she thought back to Tuesday afternoon and not knowing exactly what had happened.
"I was praying so hard for nothing to happen to her," she said. "I just started crying."
Sophomore Crystal Lane said Mills took her in like a family member.
"I only knew her for a year, but I felt like I knew her for a lifetime," she said.
On Monday, Lane had bought Mills a card and a danish as a way of saying goodbye at the end of the school year. Monday was Mills' last day at work, and Lane said she was thankful she had the chance to show her how she felt and to say goodbye.
"I was surprised I got the opportunity to tell her," Lane said. "I almost missed her by one day."
Tiffany Broyles said Mills made an impression after only working with her seven months.
"She was sweet. She was caring. She was real," Broyle said.