Many of my readers include former students from my days teaching English at Plainville High, and if they remember me, they certainly remember George Grasso, who taught math there for 30 years.
Mr. Grasso died last month, a few months shy of his 82nd birthday.
George Grasso was a force—a big man with a voice that echoed in those old, narrow corridors. In modern parlance, some would say he had a large footprint. Nobody complained. For most of my years at PHS he was the department chair in mathematics, a fact which mattered little to his students, or probably to George, for he was first and foremost a tremendously skilled classroom instructor. And while no teacher enjoys unblemished adulation, I seldom heard a complaint or a negative comment of any kind about "Mr. Grasso."
The influence he had on his students assuredly endures, as does the influence he had on his colleagues. When I began at PHS, actually not long after George, he was one of the established pros, and later became, for me at least, part of the pantheon that included names like Madrak, DeThomas, Wilcox, Putterman, Cooke, et al. (I am leaving many out, and for that, I apologize.) These were the professionals who knew their material, always showed up, continually did things right, and who, for beginning teachers, were the professionals we wanted to become.
Beyond all that, however, George was an early friend. In my first years I glommed onto a group that attended every basketball home game—and enough away matches to disrupt our schedules completely. George lived not far from me, and I remember picking him up many times and driving him to the games. I don't know why—he had a car—but I think now that maybe he and his wife Barbara shared it and he didn't want to leave her without one. Whatever the reason, we fell easily into this habit and all the post-game traditions that went along with it.
During the contests George "ran the game clock" in the "old" gym— a clock as non-digital as the gym was old— and he did so for years, long after I stopped attending and moved on to other interests and responsibilities; and when I, too, began coaching, George was a mentor as he was to many neophyte coaches. Then the running craze drew me in, and I often consulted George, the cross-country coach, for tips and advice. He had plenty, often able to simplify complex situations. One suggestion still resonates, even now that I've stopped running: "In a race, don't look back to see who's there," he said. "The only ones who count are ahead of you."
When George retired in 1999, he took his own advice. Instead of looking back, he and Barbara settled at the Cape and remained there in a place they both loved. And for years afterward, I kept running races and turning around to see who was behind me. I'm afraid that, in the end, George Grasso was a better teacher than I was a student. That's probably the legacy he would have preferred.
(For a thorough and beautifully written remembrance of George, click here.)