The Wonderful John Girard

Thoughts from one of many Mr. G fans

John Girard was among the finest people I have known. I know I share this sentiment with many people. I had the honor of teaching at Marion Cross School for six years during John’s long career as a deeply respected teacher. John set the bar high as a teacher and as a person; students, faculty and staff, parents and community members revered him.

Our thoughts are with Cathy and the extended Girard Family. It wouldn’t surprise anyone that John’s wife Cathy and their four children are also kind, generous souls. I graduated from HHS years before the Girard kids, but they were legends as exceptional athletes who were also smart, good kids. Like their parents, they were incredibly humble despite their amazing feats. Their grandchildren are following suit.

The seeds of Mr. G Wonder were planted early in the lives of Norwich children. John’s students spoke of him as the teacher who helped light up their interest in math and science as well as inspired them to step up their game. Forethought isn’t usually a feature among first graders, but my students were already looking forward to fifth grade with Mr. G.

Many of my students had attended sports camp or had an older sibling in Mr. G’s class. Periodically, one of them would feel compelled to express all the reasons why Mr. G was a great coach or teacher. We would all listen with rapt attention and full interest. Listening to an earnest seven-year-old articulate admiration and respect for Mr. G was something to behold. Witnessing every other first grader in my class maintains absolute stillness and focus while another student spoke about Mr. G for a long stretch of time was remarkable.

John inspired us all to rise up to be better people purely by example and through his generous spirit. Even when a student misbehaved or adults were inappropriate, John didn’t voice or convey disapproval or judgment. He was genuinely accepting of others. His subtle influence, however, could shift the tone of a conversation. Young people and adults chose a higher road in his presence and carried the positive vibe along for the day.

The teachers’ room is a place where one can let off some steam and get some feedback on challenging classroom moments. As a young teacher, even just a few minutes in the teachers’ room helped me get perspective, redirect my energy and vent frustrations. As a person who tends to ride in the lane of inappropriate humor, I benefited greatly from John’s presence. I would reach for more specific words and appropriate language rather than letting my potty mouth run. It was easy to feel like a snarky slouch around Mr. G, even though he never passed judgment. His saintly presence helped us all shift our mindset.

Mr. G was generous with his knowledge for any of us with questions about teaching or specific subjects. He provided me with more breakthroughs in my understanding of math and science than I experienced in my entire school experience. Mr. G made multiplication and division fascinating and fun. Throwing out a question to Mr. G around the copy machine during a twenty-minute recess turned into teacher training sessions that we cherished.

In the past year, I have crossed paths with John at Wheelock Terrace Assisted Living where he gave Communion to residents. My mom doesn’t remember a lot these days, but she can remember how she feels when she attends Communion with the “very nice man who runs the service.” Recently, I peeked in to see a group of folks in a state of complete peace and ease listening to John’s soothing voice and basking in his undivided attention. I am grateful my mom experienced some of his goodness.

John had a lasting impact on people. Over the years, when his name came up while chatting with friends, the conversation was always put on hold to acknowledge his greatness. It often started with mutual a nod of unspoken awe for the man and our hands on our hearts. Sometimes we shared wonderful anecdotes of how he positively influenced us as individuals or the wider community. Other times, his impact was fully conveyed when one of us would say, “How about that amazing man?!”

Words can barely capture John Girard’s positive contributions to the world and how he made people feel. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to work in the same school with him for a few years. He generously shared blessings in every corner of his very full life. May his soul rest in peace.

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