I was 5 years old when my grandfather, Franics T. Bresnahan, died of colon cancer. I wish I had more memories of him. The few I do I hold close to my heart: listening to him read “The Night Before Christmas” to my cousins and me, dressed in our PJs on Christmas Eve; lining up before him so that he could type our lunch orders for McDonald’s on his rickety old typewriter; sitting on his lap watching the annual parade during Yankee Homecoming.
When I was young, I knew that my grandfather, whom we all called Grandpapa, worked for the schools in his beloved hometown of Newburyport. However, I never understood exactly what he did. I could barely pronounce the word “superintendent,” no less understand what kind of position it was. The year after my grandfather passed away, my mom explained to us that because of Grandpapa’s wonderful work for children in Newburyport, they were going to name a new school after him.
On the day of the dedication of the Belleville School, my brothers and I were dressed in new coats and outfits. I remember I wore a fancy white muff in lieu of gloves. Along with our 10 cousins, we unveiled the new Bresnahan School sign. I remember listening to my aunt speak, listening to many, many people speak about what a remarkable person and educator my Grandpapa was. I heard stories about his invigorating and much-anticipated first-day-of-school speeches; I heard stories about how he inspired teachers to continue to perfect their craft; but most commonly, I heard about how he always put the children of Newburyport first and foremost. I knew on that cold November day that someday, I too, would work in schools for children.
In the years that followed, my parents made the decision to transfer my older brother and me from the Immaculate Conception to the Bresnahan School. I will never forget walking into the Bres on my first day of first grade. There was a picture of my grandfather hanging in the front hall. Everyday of the next four years, I got to go to school with my Grandpapa beside me.
As I entered the Nock Middle School, and then later, Newburyport High, I was fortunate enough to meet many teachers who had worked with my grandfather. One teacher even surprised me by giving me a sketch he had drawn of him from many years back. The more stories I heard of Grandpapa’s dedication and passion for education, the more something became very clear: He was beloved by all who knew him.
In one month, I will begin my second year teaching third grade. Much like Grandpapa, I have found no greater source of happiness than within the walls of a school. I wish so badly that I could have a conversation about teaching with him; that I could have called him during my first round of parent-teacher conferences; that I could have asked him for help writing my monthly classroom newsletter. I wish I could pick that brilliant educator brain of his.
Although I am not back teaching in my hometown yet, I revel in the image of getting to teach at the Bres one day. Until then, I keep my Grandpapa’s superintendent name-plate on my desk. And when my sweet students see it and ask me who Francis T. Bresnahan is, I will tell them that he was the person who made me their teacher.
Please preserve the name of the Bresnahan Elementary School and continue to honor my grandfather’s lifelong work for the children of Newburyport.
Mary Elizabeth Clancy, a Newburyport native, lives in Boston.