Lowell High Distinguished Alums Honored Last Night

Class of 2011 – Lowell High School Distinguished Alumni

It was time again to honor that special group of people that have been declared “Distinguished Alums” of  Lowell High School. The group that gathered last night is the eighth class of  alums so honored. The first class was in 2005 – this illustrious  group who set the tone to follow –  included Jack Kerouac, class of 1939; George Behrakis, class of 1951; Paul E. Tsongas, class of 1958; and Donna Lavigne McCallum and her husband and classmate Elkin McCallum, class of 1961 – grads in a close cluster of years, grads who made their mark, grads who excelled in the arts, business, politics, public service and philanthropy. Others who carry the mantle of Distinguished Alumni include: surgeon Dr. Brendan Leahey, Met mezzo-soprano Rosalind Elias,  UML Chancellor and former Congressman Marty Meehan, General Benjamin F. Butler of the first LHS graduating class  of 1831, entrepreneur Ted Leonsis and author Elinor Lipman. (See the full list and biographies here.)

The class of 2011 is another special group covering a broad time frame in the history of Lowell High School:

William Henry O’Connell, class of 1876 – prelate of the Roman Catholic Church serving as Cardinal/Archbishop of  Boston from 1907 to his death in 1944 – O’Connell was described by his great nephew former U. S.  Senator Paul Kirk (D-MA) as presiding during the “Golden Age of Catholicism” in America. Kirk talked of  “Will O’Connell” and his triumph in overcoming and learning from the hard lessons of ethnic and religious discrimination.  It emboldened him later to help transform the American Catholic Church into more “public Catholicism.” He built more churches, schools and hospitals and ordained more priests that at any other time in Massachusetts history. More interesting for this particular event though – was Kirk’s assertion that Will O’ Connell’s time at Lowell High School was a time of great happiness where unlike in his early school experience, his  faculty mentors helped grow his love of books and learning – where his desire for a college life grew and where his vocation grew. This November 27, 2011 will be the 100th anniversary of O’Connell’s elevation to the College of Cardinals.

John Stack, class of 1924 – was an eminent Fulbright scholar, aeronautical engineer and a chief researcher at Langley working to pave the way for transonic aircraft.  He designed the Bell-X, the first plane to break the sound barrier. So outstanding was Stack in his field of supersonic flight that he – along with pilot Chuck Yeager – was awarded the the Collier Trophy – the highest award given in aviation. His daughter – Martha Stack Sim – was charming in her recollecting of her father who loved Lowell and loved his large extended local family – especially his cousins – both Stacks and O’Connors. She told the audience that her words for the students earlier in the day were to be like her father who would say – “make that thing work right!”

George N. Tsapatsaris, class of 1949 -had a remarkable 41-year career in public education and stands one of the longest serving Superintendents of the Lowell Schools whose legacy of  new school buildings and renovated spaces is unparalleled. His goal to bring equal quality instructional service to all students is a mark of his legacy. George told us that the first time he stood on that stage in the Irish Auditorium was as President of his 9th grade class – he hoped that 65 years later he was wiser and smarter – he did know that his passion for making a difference was still as strong!. He praised the influence of his LHS history teacher and mentor Frank McHugh; he credited LHS for reinforcing the strong values of discipline, honesty and perseverance; the “can do” attitude he learned from an officer in the 4th Army; and noting that it really does “take a village” to shape a child in a school system he lauded in particular the team of Mayor Dick Howe, City Solicitor Tom Sweeney, City Manager Jim Campbell and Steve Panagiotakos along with the UML/College of education for what they did for the schools in important times in the late 1980s when an immigrant influx brought great challenges. It was truly George’s audience ( it was full of family, friends and school department colleagues) as he stood to the loudest and warmest applause and even some hoots, hollers and cheers!

Robert J. Goldberg, class of 1968 – teacher, professor, UMass Medical School department director and world-renowned epidemiologist whose study and research greatly affected the understanding and treatment of coronary artery disease, venous thromboembolism and chronic heart failure. He directed the landmark Worcester Heart Attack Study. Dr. Goldberg spoke with wit and nostalgia of his Lowell High days – remembering his escapades in Fred Gallagher’s science lab, teachers Helen Shea (English), Arthur Pard (Math), Wyman Trull (who took him and others up to his alma mater Bowdoin College for a look-see) and Coach Ray Riddick. He remembered large classes and lots of student energy and lots of structure at Lowell High. His wife Ellie Heifetz was a classmate – LBJ was President – his dad owned Allen Cosmetics on Merrimack Street – and he once as a young kid got a hit off a Brian Martin pitch!

Patti Fleming Quigley, class of 1982 – honored as a humanitarian for her work and commitment to empowering widows affected by war, terrorism and oppression – a cause that inspired her when she found herself  a widow with a toddler  – 8 months pregnant – when her beloved husband Patrick perished on September 11, 2001 – a passenger on United Flight 175. She was perhaps the most emotional as she declared herself  “honored and humbled” to be with her group. Comparing herself to winning the Heisman Trophy – an individual person with a great team behind her – raised by her parents and mentors the late Bernice and Brendan (former Mayor of Lowell who was in the audience sitting beside me along with her brother Tom – Director of the Lowell Police Academy), her super siblings, her friends from Wellesley, her two daughters Rachel and Leah – all allowing her to be the best that she could be! She spoke of moving forward in the face of adversity and using her voice for positive change.

All honorees spent the day in Lowell, touring the high school, speaking to students and enjoying a special lunch. Thanks to class of 1960 alum Nick Sarris – the names of the Class of 2011 Distinguished Alumni are already on the wall of honor in the lobby of the Cyrus W. Irish Auditorium. It was a wonderful evening of tribute and memory!


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