Retired BHS Principal Remembered with Fondness and Respect

March 14, 2024
Thomas J. Duggan, Jr.

Former teachers, students, and colleagues on Wednesday recalled the leadership and friendship of Thomas J. Duggan Jr., the longest-serving principal of Bedford High School, who died Monday at the age of 85.

Duggan was principal between 1972 and 2000, leading the high school from the Vietnam era into the dawn of social media, and local demographic changes reflected by enrollment shrinking from more than 1,300 in the mid-1970s to about half that number. 

Visiting hours are scheduled for Monday from 4 to 7 p.m. at the Dee Funeral Home, 27 Bedford St. in Concord.  A Funeral Mass will be celebrated at 11:30 a.m. on Tuesday in St. Bridget’s Church, 1 Percival St., Maynard. Burial will follow at Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in Concord. 

Retired Superintendent of Schools Joseph Buckley, whose tenure overlapped with Duggan’s for some 20 years, called the BHS principal “just a solid guy – you could count on him. I really respected him and grew to appreciate his value to the high school and the school system.

“When things didn’t necessarily go his way, he would support leadership team decisions,” Buckley added. “He was a real student advocate and a teacher advocate.”

Lennox Chase, president of the BHS class of 1990, said, “Mr. Duggan was a firm and fair leader. He always expressed concern for his students’ well-being. As a METCO student, I appreciated Mr. Duggan’s kindness. He made all of the students feel welcomed.”

“Tom was always welcoming,” said Michael Griffin, Science Department program director. “I was the luckiest person to get to work with him. He showed me how to selflessly give without expectations.” 

Eleanor Donovan, retired assistant principal, said she worked for Duggan for 28 years. She said, “As an administrator, Tom’s skills enabled the students at the high school to flourish and to enjoy a positive four years. He liked and respected the students. Many times, I watched with wonder as he would convert a difficult situation into a positive one by listening carefully to each idea. He carefully hired teachers who would teach their students with skill and understanding,” Donovan added. “He could recognize and establish a great curriculum. He cheered loudly at athletic games, enjoyed music and theater events, and thoroughly enjoyed every part of every day.”

At the dedication for Sabourin Field, Athletic Director Keith Mangan (center) with Armand Sabourin, Bob Petrillo, Frank Hirsh, and Tom Duggan (far right). Courtesy photo.

“I had the pleasure of working for and with Tom as his secretary for several years,” recalled Myra Wrye. “I loved coming to work at BHS. Tom was always out and about the building connecting with the whole BHS community. I always felt he was ‘there’ to help whenever and wherever. His students and teachers were very important to his daily work.”

Bob Petrillo, retired athletics director, teacher, and coach, joined the faculty a few years before Duggan arrived in 1972. “I found him to be very fair and supportive,” he recalled. “He always listened to all sides. He backed the teachers and coaches 100 percent. He was a teachers’ principal. And he would talk to the kids at their level.” 

Petrillo described an unusual scenario that several other former colleagues remembered. Duggan was a Concord native and resident and his children attended Concord-Carlisle High School. Every year at the Bedford-CCHS Thanksgiving football game, the principal/parent would station himself on the end line, facing the center of the end zone with one foot on the Bedford side and the other on the rival’s.

Former School Committee member Bobbie Ennis, mother of five BHS graduates between 1980 and 1987, observed that “the kids loved him and he had a good rapport with the teachers.” She recalled that she worked with Duggan in the 1970s to launch a parent newsletter. “I respected him very much.”

Duggan from the 1984 Bedford High School yearbook. Image from the Bedford Free Public Library Bedford Collection

Griffin related that Duggan was his first high-school principal and “I could not have asked for a better mentor. He always put students and teachers first. He had a very welcoming and friendly style for leading us. He allowed teachers to explore new areas that would benefit the school and community. I still remember my interview with him when he said, ‘I could picture having a beer with you. Let me see if the superintendent is here so we can get you on board.’”

Lois MacGregor, retired program administrator for special education, shared “a side of Tom that others may not know.” When her telephone line was severed during what was supposed to be routine maintenance, she remembered, the principal crawled under her desk and made the repair. “Just a small example of the incredible administrator and person he was,” she said.

Deborah Savarino, a retired special education teacher, cited Duggan’s “incredible kindness and openness to a new idea. He approved a field trip to the Museum of Fine Arts for my alternative English class to see the art work we used to inspire our writing assignments in my adaptation of a program called Reading Through the Arts. He put his teachers first. He believed in us as most important in the lives of the students.”

“I appreciated his kindness when I was teaching full time and as my mother’s caregiver taking her to numerous medical appointments, which meant I had to leave school right after the students were dismissed,” said Margie Rull. “Tom didn’t hesitate for a minute when I approached him with a list of [more than] a dozen appointments and asked his permission to leave immediately after the bell rang.”

Janet Brady, also now retired, recalled, “Tom hired me for an opening in counseling. I told him I couldn’t take it because I put my youngest son on the bus and greeted him home. Tom told me the greatest job was being a mom. He said I would continue doing the bus, but come right to school.”

Former English teacher Maureen Sullivan said she and her husband Jake, retired social studies teacher and coach, were hired by Duggan. “Tom was a kind father figure to new teachers and all students, and he supported a range of initiatives on behalf of the Bedford community, and especially BHS,” she said. “He led by example with a keen sense of values and respect for all.  When Jake approached Tom about launching his law course for students, not only did he support the pilot program, but also the expansion of the program to reach MCI Concord, Concord District Court, and the outreach to NE Correctional Center to interface with inmates. “

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Noreen M OGara
March 16, 2024 10:10 pm

I was the Teen Librarian at the Bedford Free Public Library in 2000 when we first opened the then “new building’ which felt quite spacious and a bit empty. One day around 10 am Mr. Duggan came over to search for a young student who fled the high school in tears over some teenage drama. He discovered the student quietly sobbing in a far corner. Took him about 20 minutes to convince the student to join him and return to school. I was so impressed by his kindness, his patience, and his obvious commitment to the needs of the individual student. I am sure that he, like most high school principals, had a full agenda that day yet he put it all aside to deal with that one teenager who really needed help.

March 16, 2024 3:25 pm

Prayers and thoughts to the entire Duggan family. For the record, Mike Rosenberg is the epitome of a community builder through his inspiring written words and lifetime of giving back to a small town that is wicked lucky to have him. Principal Duggan was a great man, but so was Coach Petrillo. He taught us to never let any other team humiliate us. If it was just 1 hit in a no hitter or 1 tackle in a game you were losing, never quit. Those life lessons from great coaches and educators keep us in the game of life long after we graduated.

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