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Bidding Farewell to a 'Father' Figure at Memorial ES

Francis "Andy" Anderson retires Tuesday, ending a 38-year career in education, the last 15 spent in leadership roles at Memorial Elementary School, where his perpetual smile made him a favorite of students and staff.

Those who know the Milford schools best say there's something different and even a little special about . And they say a big part of that reason is longtime principal Francis "Andy" Anderson, who retires Tuesday, capping a 38-year career as a teacher and administrator. 

"All of our schools are amazing in their own way, but there is a different feel at Memorial," said Superintendent Robert Tremblay.  "It's an older school and smaller, and it does feel more like a family, and there's no question he is the reason why." 

Lisa Firth, the assistant principal at Memorial for the past four years, has known Anderson for more than 20 years.

“I call him the father of Memorial School,” she said. “He just welcomes everybody into his heart like family.”

Anderson started teaching in 1974 and first became a principal 15 years later. In 1993, he moved from to Memorial. Apart from a three-year hiatus in joining a family venture in the corporate world, Anderson has been a welcoming, caring and smiling presence at Memorial ever since. 

"I think it's important that kids know when they come to school that this a safe and stable place where people care about them," Anderson said. "Every day there are big and small opportunities to make that happen." 

Throughout his career, Anderson has seen the job of principal become more complex, with an increasing empahsis on standardized tests that has coincided with economic and social changes that have meant fewer students than ever come to school truly ready to learn. 

Still, Anderson knows he has connected with many students over the years. He still gets an annual stack of graduation party invitations and several of his past students now have careers of their own in education. He also knows that many students may have completed their educations thanks to work he did when they were still first or second graders. 

Even as he advocated for students over his career, Anderson was also quick to share his time and even his own youthful passions with students.

Every year on the opening day of Red Sox season, according to Firth, Anderson could be found giving a new baseball card to every second grader and taking the time to teach them how to "flip" the cards. "The kids love the game, but they also love that he comes around and teaches it to them," she said.

On the wall of Anderson's office, alongside handmade retirement cards, and neatly arranged schedules and policies, is a handwritten note from his granddaughter Madison - whose last day as a student at Memorial is also Anderson's last day on the job.

Having her there as a student has been one of the highlights of his career, he said. 

"Some people think I retired back in 2001, but this time it's the real thing," Anderson said.  "There will be some golf and travel thrown in," said the lifelong Milford resident. "But the next part is all about spending more time with family."

As he looks back, he knows that much of the work he did wasn't captured in test scores but could only come from students knowing that he cared, and from his tireless attention to detail. 

One day during his final full week on the job, Anderson was heading out the door of his office on the way to rehearse for a play, one he’s performed in several times in the past, and one in which he speaks exactly one word. Perhaps, it was suggested, rehearsal wasn't necessary. 

“I guess it’s just my personality," he said, flashing the same smile that has greeted students as they got on and off the bus, for so many years. "Especially when it comes to something that involves the kids, I want to make sure all the details are right."

Keith Regan June 21, 2011 at 10:32 PM
While reporting on Mr. Anderson's retirement, I reached out to School Committee member Patrick Holland, who responded with comments that reflect not only his role as committee representative to Memorial but a personal connection--his mother worked for Anderson for 15 years. "As a principal he sees it as his personal responsibility to make sure everyone who has reason to come to Memorial feels comfortable, welcome and safe," Holland said. "He wants everyone to love his school as much as he does, so he makes sure the smallest details are always in order. Each year, within the first few weeks of school, he learns the names of each new student placed in his care, because he wants to make a personal connection with every student he is responsible for. To his team he is not only a boss, he is a friend too. He is as thoughtfully diligent in his interactions with parents as he is with his students and co-workers, I don't think it is possible for Andy to be any more approachable to parents than he is." "He will be sorely missed," Holland added. "I wish him all the best, and I hope he knows that he has earned the respect and admiration of many people in this community."
Laurie Carr June 22, 2011 at 01:18 AM
My son recently graduated from college, but what I remember most about Mr. Anderson was watching him greet every student by name as they entered school each morning!
kate August 31, 2011 at 03:30 PM
Thank you both for the kind words about my father. He was a great principal and an ever better father. He truly cared about Memorial and especially the students. He was there every day, his dedication was amazing. Wishing you well in your retirement dad, you truly deserve it!

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