The school administration couldn't have made a better choice to be a high school principal than Gerry Habershaw. For starters he was big, not just in stature but in his presence. You knew Gerry was there. He was so much more. He listened. He was fair. He
The school administration couldn’t have made a better choice to be a high school principal than Gerry Habershaw. For starters he was big, not just in stature but in his presence. You knew Gerry was there. He was so much more. He listened. He was fair. He cared for what was right and, most of all, he cared for his students.
When he called, I knew it was important to his students and to the school. He made those calls soon after Veterans Memorial High School transitioned into a middle school with Vets’ students divided up between Pilgrim and Toll Gate. Pilgrim got the lion’s share and Gerry got the job he wanted so much. Again it was a good decision by the school administration. Like the Vets students displaced by school consolidation, Gerry was one of them. He was the team maker, the one to pull together former rivals on the playing fields into a cohesive unit under the Patriots banner.
Gerry never forgot the melding of two schools into a single school. I remember him making a big deal when the last of the former Hurricane students crossed the stage as Pilgrim graduates. It’s been years now, but he made the same effort to shine the spotlight on those who failed to cross the stage during graduation and found themselves in summer school. Having scrapped through a couple of high school classes myself, I can only imagine the humiliation they must have felt when their friends, diplomas in hand, set off on a new course in their lives.
Gerry had compassion for these kids. He could see the honor students, those with the badges of National Merit Scholarship Finalists and early admission to top tier colleges would make it. He could see their passion to succeed and appreciated their commitment and direction. It was the students who hadn’t found their way, maybe following undesirable influences, who he fought to save. Over the years I’ve covered many of Gerry’s graduation speeches. He talked to the graduates, to the parents and to the teachers. It’s what you would expect a principal to do. But I’ve also reported on summer school graduations and there Gerry addressed each of the graduates by name, I could hear the pride he took in their accomplishment and see what it meant to them. When he handed them a diploma it was more than a hug. It was an embrace that said, “I will be there for you.”
So, I wasn’t surprised when I got a call the week before homecoming. I knew this had to be important to Gerry and to the school. He outlined the situation succinctly. He was good at that and I understood why he was calling the media. An architect from East Greenwich had attended a soccer game at Vets Middle School and found the bleachers were out of code. The opening between the seat and the floorboard was too great. Pilgrim bleachers were also out of compliance and now the administration was planning to close them for the homecoming game.
The news spread like wildfire on social media and it wasn’t long before the Mayor and the Building Officer called for a press briefing on the Pilgrim field. Gerry showed up early, in fact, prior to most of the TV crews. He made his points, emphasizing this would be a letdown for the kids and parents who had sacrificed so much because of the pandemic. Then he left, explaining he had lunch duty. He said his piece and now it was back to the work at hand.
There have been others who would have looked for a confrontation, especially in front of all those cameras. That wasn’t Gerry. He wasn’t looking to make his point through public embarrassment, humiliation or self-aggrandizement.
It was simple: it was for the kids.
Gerry died Saturday. He will be remembered by those he stood up for.
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