John F. Sullivan, 84, deputy superintendent of Howard Co. schools

March 24, 2004|By Kate Shatzkin | Kate Shatzkin,SUN STAFF

John Francis Sullivan, an educator for nearly three decades who was a former assistant superintendent of schools in Howard County, died of Alzheimer's disease Friday at Ruxton Health and Rehabilitation Center in Pikesville. He was 84.

Known as a self-effacing, gentle man who shunned a retirement party when he left the school system in 1978, the longtime Timonium resident loved studying. He earned three advanced degrees at the Johns Hopkins University while working as a teacher, principal and administrator.

Mr. Sullivan was born in Holyoke, Mass., and attended Holyoke High School. There he met his future wife, Mildred Turconi, whom he married in 1943.

At age 15, he joined the Civilian Conservation Corps, working on land preservation projects throughout New England to earn money for his family, his wife said. He had been told there wouldn't be money for him to go to college.

He enlisted in the Army during World War II, serving as a medic in England, France and Germany for the 115th Station Hospital. In recent years, he spoke to his children about working with newly freed prisoners of the Dachau concentration camp in Germany.

Returning from the war in 1946, Mr. Sullivan resumed his education with the help of the G.I. Bill, and graduated from Springfield College in Springfield, Mass., three years later.

For a time, Mr. Sullivan considered studying medicine, said his son, Neil Sullivan of Clarksville. But a physical education teacher from Baltimore recruited Mr. Sullivan to join the city schools, where he worked for 22 years.

During that time, he attended night classes at Johns Hopkins, earning a master's degree in education in 1954, a certificate of advanced studies in education in 1960, and a master's in liberal arts in 1969. "He was a lifelong learner," his wife said.

Mr. Sullivan was a teacher and guidance counselor, principal of Hampstead Hill Junior High School, and director of secondary education for the city school district before moving to the Howard County system in 1971 as director of instruction. He was promoted to assistant superintendent five years later. He also taught administration courses at Loyola College.

Former co-workers recalled a modest man who was the first person in the office every day.

"He was a very fair and honest individual," said Charles I. Ecker, superintendent of Carroll County public schools and former Howard County executive who worked with Mr. Sullivan as an assistant superintendent of the schools there. "He treated everybody with respect and dignity."

Said Noel Farmer, former Frederick County superintendent of schools and a director of high schools under Mr. Sullivan in Howard: "He was a wonderful boss. You couldn't have asked for anyone better. He was always teaching you, too, at the same time."

After retiring from the school system, Mr. Sullivan worked for several years as director of medical education at Memorial Hospital in York, Pa.

In retirement, Mr. Sullivan enjoyed meeting a group of friends for pre-dawn swims at the YMCA in Towson. His main passion, though, was his two grandchildren. Sometimes they just spent time together doing simple things, his son said. "I think he understood that was just as important as breaking out the books," he said.

Neil Sullivan said he lived by his father's advice that "anything you do, do well. ... That was part of his personality that he just wanted to feel confident that he had done the best job possible."

When Neil Sullivan married, he chose his father as best man. He and his sister, Susan Sullivan of Glenwood, followed in their father's footsteps: Both are public school teachers in Howard County.

A private burial service was held Monday.

The family suggested memorial donations to Springfield College, 263 Alden St., Springfield, Mass., 01109.

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