This week we lost a great teacher, mentor, and friend


Below are some excerpts from the Eulogy that was given today at John McCarthy’s Funeral.  It has been formatted for a blog post.

This past week, the Reading Community lost a great teacher, mentor, and friend with the passing of recently retired Coolidge Middle School Science Teacher John McCarthy.  John passed away on Monday after a courageous 2 year battle with cancer. This post is a reflection piece that represents the thoughts of his family and friends, the hundreds of staff and thousands of students who have known, worked with, or were taught by John Francis McCarthy during his 42 years in education.  John was a very special person, a one of a kind, who cared so much for others, would give the shirt off of his back to help a person in need, and was so excited to work each and every day with students.

Let’s first start with John’s unique phrases…otherwise known as “McCarthyisms”.  Over the years, John has had some quotes that will always remind us of him.  Whether it his usually greeting to students of “How ah ya!” or the quote at the bottom of his email signature, “Don’t take success for granted”, or “Have a gneiss day!” after the metamorphic rock or his famous remark, “This is too touchy feely for me”, John always found a way to make us laugh when we needed it the most.  Even when he was suffering in pain the last two years, John would always stay positive by telling everyone, “I am hangin in there”. His sayings, “Don’t be a vestigial organ” or use your CS (Common Sense) or I must have CRS (Can’t Remember Stuff) always put a smile to everyone’s face.   Students really connected to those sayings.

John also had a wonderful way about him to connect with both kids and adults.  It was these small, but significant symbols that made John so special.  For example, when he went on Science Olympiad Trips, he always brought that ugly yellow suitcase that he bought at a yard sale and he always sat at the school’s home base in that worn, but usable lawn chair.  He collected the tops of cans to donate to Shriner’s so that children can get transported to the Shriner’s Burns Center.  Soon many people began bringing their can tabs to John McCarthy.  John’s signature emails of various sayings, jokes and pictures about animals and education jokes always made people laugh.

John loved nature and science.  He could tell you the names of every tree, the classification of every bug, and the beak of every bird. His lawn was always meticulous and he had the best tomato plants on King Street (Where he lived).  He loved his pets, Stu the parrot, his numerous tanks of fish, and his Doberman pinchers.  One year, John was even able to get a small group of baby ducklings to waddle from one Coolidge Courtyard to another.  Science was his passion and he loved to work with students, whether it be science class, the Coolidge School Science Olympiad Day , or just an informal one on one session, John would give any student as much of his attention as possible.  His classroom was a laboratory of engagement with Sully the Turtle in one tank, exotic fish in another tank, and numerous stuffed animals, skeletons, coral, rocks, and minerals scattered throughout the classroom.  It was common to see his classic McCarthy handwriting on the blackboard and a SMART Board that was always on, but in John’s words, “never worked.” No matter what time of day, before school and after school, there were always students hanging around in John’s classroom, a true sign of a great teacher.

John loved the school kitchen and the kitchen staff and it was not uncommon to see John sitting behind the counter at lunch time talking with students, serving food, and ringing up their sales.  Lunch time became an opportunity to connect with the students and John always looked for those types of opportunities.

For the last 20 years, Coolidge was his life and his second home.  He loved the staff and he would spend hours there during the summer and on weekends answering the phone in the main office, putting mail in the mailboxes, fixing the laminating machine (which gave him the nickname “the laminator”), and cleaning his classroom. No one really fully understood just how hard he worked for the school until he wasn’t there every day.  He was the kind of person who would take care of things before anyone else even knew they needed to be done, but he didn’t want credit or attention for any of it.

John was such a special person…a person who had a unique blend of characteristics that made him such a likeable person.  He was also very generous and would be the first to donate money to a worthy cause, the first to give his time, and the first to lend a helping hand.  Possessions never meant anything to him and he was always giving something of his away to someone or some organization who was in need.  He was in the truest sense of the word a teacher, a mentor, and a friend.  He never forgot a student’s name, never lost his patience, and always cared for the students who needed the most support.  He always seemed to have a special place in his heart for the students with the most severe special needs and developed deep connections with them.  Many of you know them by name from over the years:  Jason, Laura, Johanna, David, Bryce, Owen, Dan, Bear, Jackson, and so many others.  These students loved John because they knew he cared for them.

And then there were the kids on the Science Olympiad Teams and the relationships that he had with all of those students.  For over 20 years John coached this team and he became the heart and soul of the organization.  He never took one dime as compensation, in fact, he used to hang his uncashed stipend check on the bulletin board behind his desk.  His payment was the joy of working with the students.  So many students over the years have pursued careers in science, engineering, and mathematics, all because of the impact that John McCarthy had on their lives.

The historian Henry Adams once said, “a teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.” John continues to impact his students in a positive way.  When John passed away several students wrote on Facebook and Twitter their thoughts.   One former student wrote, “I was so sad to hear about Mr. McCarthy yesterday.  He was such a huge influence on me and so many others.  He taught me to become a critical thinker, love science, and enjoy learning outside of the classroom.  It is largely thanks to him that I became an educator.”

Another student wrote:

“Mr. McCarthy was a truly incredible person. Everyone who met him was truly affected by his unusual attitude, teaching style and humor. Over the course of 40 years, I can only imagine how many lives he has been able to change. His selfless dedication to teaching, and his commitment to Science Olympiad is outstandingly admirable. While he may no longer be with us, his legacy certainly will continue to live on in the lives of those who he has been able to touch. No words of mine can really describe the impact he had on all of us. What I can say is that he has truly changed my life for the better, and for that I will always be thankful.”

Today, we are all sad that John McCarthy is gone.  But, each of us who had the privilege of knowing him are better off.  He cared about the things that were important in life and didn’t worry about the things he could not control.  He had a positive impact on all of our lives, and at the end of the day, that is all that really matters.  John’s memories, his spirit, his smile and laugh will always live on in each of us.

John, you are now at peace after a rewarding life.  You no longer have to deal with the pain, the treatments and the suffering.  You are in a much better place and my guess is that you are probably sitting in your science Olympiad lawn chair having a Dunkin Donuts regular coffee with those who have left before you, sharing stories, and taking it all in.  But, along your journey, you have touched the lives of so many people in a very positive way.  Thank you, for the humor, the laughter and for teaching all of us about the real qualities and values that are important in life and make this world a better place. We are so fortunate that the Reading Public School Community had you as a teacher, a mentor, and a friend.

Rest in Peace.

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