Westport Mourns Rich Rollins

Rich Rollins — a long-time Westport math teacher and swim coach — died Friday morning.  The cause was an apparent heart attack.

Rich Rollins

Rich began his Westport teaching career at Long Lots Junior High School in 1967, and later taught at Bedford Middle School.  He coached boys and girls swimming at Staples (not concurrently) over a 25-year span.

Generations of students knew him for his ever-present smile, true love of teaching (and the students he taught), and ability to make even tests fun.

After retiring in 2004, Rich divided his time between his homes in Englishtown, Nova Scotia and Tuscaloosa, Alabama.  He pursued his interests in Celtic music and culture of Cape Breton, southern Civil War history, and visiting as many minor league baseball stadiums as possible.

He leaves his girlfriend Penny Haisten Kavanaugh; a sister, 2 nieces, and thousands of former students and their families.

Following his wishes, there will be no services.

92 responses to “Westport Mourns Rich Rollins

  1. Is there a place to send a note? He was one of those teachers that really made an impact.

  2. Jim Goodrich

    Great picture of Rich and the way I will choose to remember him.

  3. Tom Haberstroh

    A tremendous loss. One of the best. Going through the Westport public schools K-12, few teachers inspired me more than Mr. Rollins.

    I think I can speak for everyone that we all rooted for Michigan football on Saturday because of him. The mustache. The “What was the color of George Washington’s white horse?” extra credit questions. The humor.

    He made math fun. I say this without hesitation: I wouldn’t be where I am today if it weren’t for Mr. Rollins.

    He will be missed.

  4. Bob Stalling

    One of the great teachers in my life. Great sense of humor, made learning fun.
    Does anyone remember senior lifesaving? We called him “The Walrus” because of his mustache.
    I loved running into him over the years….often he was with Toby Watson, another great teacher.
    Nothing but good memories….he will be missed.

  5. Rich will certainly be missed. Many might not know that Rich was regularly seen at the Fairfield University pool seeking out athletes from his Staples teams that were competing locally.

    Rich was also my instructor for life guarding/life saving and he took the role of certifying his students very seriously. He would never pass a student if he didn’t feel comfortable swimming under their watchful eye.

    Rich was a good man and who always had a smile on his face and a story to tell. Rich touched the hearts of many. Like so many others I will remember him fondly and send my deepest condolences to his family.

  6. Wrecker alum

    Rich didn’t turn ANYONE away from the Staples swim team and made even the slowest of us feel like we were an important part of the team, even if we never scored a point at a meet. I still remember how every fall, a few weeks into our season, he made us swim 800 meters of butterfly without stopping (he claimed to count one swimmer’s laps and said we’d all have to start over if that person cheated). There’s nothing like taking a 15-year-old girl who thinks she can’t swim a lap of butterfly and having her swim 32 laps to show that we are all capable of a lot more than we think we are. It’s a lesson that has stuck with me over the years.

    My sincere condolences to Rich’s family and friends. He will be missed but will live on through the countless students and swimmers he influenced.

  7. A sad moment for all of us who knew and loved Rich.

    He was a steady, honest, forthright teacher and a loyal colleague.

    No service but a favorite charity for a small memorial to one of Westport’s outstanding landmarks?

  8. David Schaffer

    Sad news, as someone who didn’t really enjoy his JR high years, his math classes were indeed enjoyable and memorable. Sympathies to the family, and thanks and tribute to Rich Rollins.

    Hey Bob Stalling, didn’t we both have Rollins for Math in 9th grade, over at St. Luke’s the year they were rebuilding LL because of the fire? I remember several people from that class and I think you were one.

  9. Rest in peace Mr. Rollins. You made an impact on me in not only my life as a student but as a young man as well. You were a teacher who will never be forgotten in the minds of the countless students you have taught. Thank you.

  10. Sara Stein Lichtman

    Mr. Rollins, you touched my life in so many ways. I will think of you when: Michigan plays; one of my students complains that it is cold in my classroom; I think of giving a ten point daily quiz (except after a Michigan win); I write a silly question at the end of a quiz; I swim laps; I see a dunk tank …. and in so many other countless ways. You continue to be an inspiration in my life.

    • Great BMS memories of a great man. Survivors also include his faithful dog, Minnie.

      • Unfortunately, Minnie pre-deceased Rich (by at least 4 years).

        Rich was my teaching colleague, as well as being my children’s math teacher and their swim coach. I last saw him in his favorite place–Cape Breton National Park in Nova Scotia, when he spent an entire day with my husband and I, driving us around the park, taking us to his home, just being Rich.

        We will all miss him.

        • Yes, but her death never stopped him from referring – in the classroom and in conversation – to “spending an evening with Minnie.”

  11. He was a wonderful teacher to me and then to my daughter all of those years later. He came back for graduation in 2009, as it was his last class of kids. He was so happy learn that she was headed off to U of M. Go Blue Mr. Rollins and rest in peace

  12. How sad for everyone who knew Rich. I count him as one of the best people I’ve known. His lifeguarding courses at the Y were legendary. Former Compo Beach lifeguard Tom McCarthy and I used to serve as victims when Rich gave his final exam each term. Happy memories all, sad that Rich passed so soon, but we will never forget him.

  13. I am Penny…Richard’s girlfriend. He talk of about all of you with such excitement and joy. I always thought that each one of you as if were his own children…you meant so much to him.

    We were so lucky to have found each other at this point in our lifes. I don’t think either one of us expected it…but were thrilled it happened.

    He was the sweetest and kindness man I ever had the pleasure of knowing. I loved him so…he treated me like a princess…he was my one constant ray of sunshine through some of the most difficult times I have ever been through in the past two years….He will be greatly missed by me and all those who had the pleasure of knowing him.

    I ask for your prayers to give me the strength to carry on….for his soul….for sister Ann….for his 2 nieces and their children (they were the daughters of his deceased sister Betsy)….and all the friends and thousands of students who had been touched by him at some point in their life. He had such a gentle soul and had such a big heart….he was one of a kind.

    The day I found him dead in his home was a blur. Filled with tears and shock. There will be many more tears to come, but I woke up this morning to a wonderful email from my sister. She said:

    “Richard was an angel just like you … who fell so gently and silently into your hands that he will live in your heart forever…don’t worry little sister… today’s pain will be replaced with a sweet joy that will light up your life … try to see God’s purpose for you and live in that joy … Some say God sent Richard to bring you happiness…and show you that happiness is possible even in the most difficult situations….and I think you did the same for him.”

    I have to agreed with her….he is an angel…and although he was not a religious man, God would never turn away such a gentle soul. I know he is already in heaven looking down at me…and whispering in my ear:

    “I am sorry I had to leave so soon and that your heart aches with grief you have never experienced before….but you need to know you will be OK…God has a plan for you and I was part of it….but now you must learn to be strong and walk alone…maybe not forever…but at least until you know how worthy your are…until you realize you are lovable and you can love without guilt and worry. I was there to help show you the way…to help you see the beauty inside you…to help you see that there is laughter and joy…even when life seems just too hard to bare. I helped you see God’s love all around you….in the wonderful things that you can see, touch, smell, enjoy. Just open your eyes…I will be that flower, that bird, that moose (or walrus), that puppy, the sunshine, the rain, and you will smile and know I am at peace. We will meet once again…but until that time…continue to love, to breath, to live….and know how much I love you”

    So the tears will fall….but less with each passing day…it will take some time to understand why he left so early and for my heart to heal…but I already know I was so blessed to have had the time I did knowing and loving such a wonderful man.

    To Richard! Until we meet again….you will be missed and never forgotten.

  14. Rich was unique- and just what Westport needed (and still does!). He was never concerned about correctness or politics. It was always about the students, how he could reach them and help them grow.

  15. Richard, we all agree ,was a most unique person; a gift to our profession. I am saddened to hear of his death and will certainly pray for the happy repose of his soul until we meet again. I love the picture posted…a wonderful way to remember a wonderful person and colleague.

  16. One of the greats, indeed. I’ve borrowed your extra credit questions (“What month is the 4th of July in?”), actually saved a life using your life-saving classes, and have tired my best to emulate your easy-going, refreshing, humorous outlook on life. One of the stand-out teachers of our day. Rest in Peace Rich, and thank you for enriching so many of our lives.

  17. Never do I remember myself or my classmates sitting on the edge of our seats as with Mr. Rollins class. Partly because of the freezing air coming into class, and partly because of his playful, unpredictable, and insightful ways of teaching. It is every teachers dream to inspire students to extend their learning beyond the classroom. Yet very few teachers do it so successfully as Mr. Rollins.

    The memories will go on, always coupled with a grin somewhere beyond the legendary mustache.

  18. Barbara Wiederecht

    Staples Swim and Dive has lost one of it’s biggest fans. I am honored that I knew him and got to visit with him last Fall at the Staples pool. Thank you Coach!

  19. Gina Clark des Cognets

    This news brings much sadness to my heart. I was lucky enough to co-captain one of Rich’s wonderful Staples swim teams, and then to work with him again when I did a brief stint as a substitute teacher at Bedford for a few months in 2001. Rich was the best kind of coach you could ask for — he helped so many young women reach their full potential by his unique way of motivating you to do your best and then to do it even better. He helped year after year of swimmers learn and create a sense of teamwork like none other. Rich cared so much about all of us — from the best swimmer right on down — each one of us was important. The story about the 800 butterfly (totally true!) make me smile — one of many ways Rich showed us all how we could do so much more than we ever thought possible. He was a kind, funny, warm, and wonderful man. How lucky Westport was to have someone like him teaching and coaching so many of its children! Like another post, I would be interested in learning of a charity to send donations to. My thoughts go out to Rich’s partner, family and friends. He will be missed.

  20. Leigh W Cushing

    I can second and third many comments here. Rich was amazing! When I moved the area my sophomore year, he really helped me fit in! I was a swimmer and he introduced me to other swimmers right away and challenged me to love the sport and want to be a coach myself! He was encouraging to ALL levels of swimmers- from the state champ to the novice swimmer! He had fun. He had a great heart. He had a great mind. He taught us to be proud of ourselves no matter the outcome. He learned about US…not just the swimmer in us. He taught good life-lessons. Rich… you will be missed. Not forgotten!

  21. Dave Coleman

    Rich went out of his way to take me into his math class and help me learn how to learn, even though I was in 5th grade and plenty of other teachers just thought it was a nuisance. Even though he was never my coach, he was a great supporter on the swimming side, too.

    I had a lot of coaches and teachers help me grow over the years, but he was the first (well, Bob was the first, but I barely remember 8-and-unders!), and probably the one that taught me the most how much fun it is to teach people how to do things better.

  22. Staples Swimming & Diving has long presented ‘Rollins Award’. The award is “given for devoting tons of time, effort, blood, sweat, and tears to the Staples team.” It was recently presented to Staples Senior Zachary Slater at the boys team banquet. In the fall, it was given to Senior Molly Loftus. A legacy plaque listing past honorees is kept in the pool trophy case.

  23. Beyond the classroom mathematics, Mr. Rollins was one of the milestone events in my life that taught me to love math and seek it out on my own. He didn’t teach math, he taught the love of learning.

    Although I am no longer his student, and although he is no longer with us, Mr. Rollins is still responsible for the new things that I learn every day.

  24. Great teacher, great coach, great colleague, greatly missed

    • I’m his sister, Ann. It brings tears to my eyes to read this blog. Thank you so much.

      • Keri Jockers

        Ann, I’m so sorry for your loss, and for Penny’s, too. I hope everyone’s words and stories are bringing you a little bit of comfort during this sad time. I’ve been checking the blog every day since Monday when I found out. For such a private man, Rich couldn’t hide what a gem he was – everyone obviously loved him. Take care.

    • David Schaffer

      Werner, if that is indeed you, may I say you were also an outstanding teacher I remember from my school days in Westport. Allow me to pay you tribute while you are still around.

      • Whoa! Not just still around, still going strong. Teaching at Staples. heading to a National Endowment for the Humanities seminar on Dickens this summer. Appreciate the shout out. Rich was great to teach with. Thanks David.

        • Ken Machol


          I didn’t have the pleasure of having Rich as a teacher, since I only attended Staples my senior year (1975-76).

          But I have always remembered having you for English 4 class. You reminded me of one of my favorite authors, Kurt Vonnegaugt.

          We have all had special teachers that we will always remember, and you are one that made a great impression on me.

          Congrats on your long tenure at Staples.

          Ken Machol

  25. Keri Jockers

    I am so sad that such a kind, gentle man is no longer with us. I had the pleasure and honor of working alongside Rich as the resource teacher on his team for years and enjoyed every minute of it. I always admired his dedication to his students, his integrity and his effortless humor in the classroom. Kids adored him and so did I. You will be missed, Rich.
    “Please take out a piece of paper and get ready for a quiz.”

  26. Sue Sweetnam Asetta

    I am so saddened to hear about Mr. Rollins. He WAS my favorite teacher (math at Long Lots) and as luck would have it, we had just become friends on facebook two months ago. I did tell him he was my favorite teacher and he was actually surprised.. Penny, we will think of you and his family and hope his smile and love will comfort you through the coming months.

  27. I was saddened to hear this news last night – thank you for sharing with all of us, Dan. I was lucky enough to have Rich both as a 7th grade math teacher and as a swim coach for 2 years. Rich was a truly kind hearted and gentle soul – I loved his mischievous grin and the wonderful twinkle in his eye. I have many memories similar to those of the others posted here – of the everyday math quizzes and also of the gaggle of middle schoolers that would come in for extra help from “Mr. Rollins” BEFORE school, whether they needed it or not – just to be in his favor and to be party to his good humor. Rich was everything that a great coach could be – tough, open minded and ultimately proud of every member of the team that gave their all, regardless of their skill. I feel lucky to have known him!

  28. In my math class I remember that, aside from being very impressed with his belt buckle collection, we were impressed with his socks. Everyday one student would go to the front of the room and lift up one of Mr. Rollins pant legs to look at his socks. They always matched his shirt or pants perfectly.

    One day, for some reason, two of us went up to the room and we each lifted his pant leg and he was wearing two different color socks, one that matched his pants and one that matched his shirt! We were all cracking up and so was Mr Rollins. His face was beet red, and it took awhile to settle us all down to teach math.

    I hated math, quite a bit, but the fact that Mr. Rollins was one of my favorite teachers despite teaching my least favorite subject, really shows you something.

  29. One of the stalwarts in the profession who actually made junior high and middle school work for kids. We’ll miss him.

  30. Gerry Kuroghlian

    Rich and I began our careers together. He was a wonderful friend, colleague, teacher, coach and mentor. He gave thousands of hours of his own time to Westport’s young people. Rich exhibited those qualities of humanity that made me proud to be his peer. His influence will continue to be felt by those he reached during his outstanding career as an educator Rest in peace.

  31. I am a Staples grad that was not lucky enough to be part of the SHS swim team. I WAS lucky enough to return to Wetsport to teach with Rich at the old Bedford. Rich represents EVERYTHING that makes a great teacher and coach. A huge loss to all. My condolences to his family, friends, colleagues and former students. Hugs from BMS and the Compo Beach Lifeguards.

  32. Doc Ludemann

    Rich was a great coach who cared for his teams. It makes me sad a fellow coach is no longer with us. I will remember him in my prayers.

  33. Kerstin Warner

    Rich was a memorable colleague. A truly smart, good, kind, caring, funny and private man. He’s the best of the ‘old school.’ Sending love to all who miss him.

  34. It saddens me to know you have passed-on, and regret that I didn’t keep in touch with you, Rich. You were a great inspiration to me too–you gave me a place to belong in that old Staples pool, and for that, I will never forget you. I still always think of your wonderful smile when I hear that John Cougar Mellancamp song “Hurts So Good” that you used to play during those crazy early morning practices. Thank you so much for inspiring me to go for the hurts so goods in life. Rest well.

  35. RIP Mr. Rollins. I know you’ll always care about us, I know you made us work hard to reach our goals and I know how underneath it all, you taught us that life was supposed to be fun. You made middle school fun for me and you know that’s not an easy thing. I know I won’t forget you and I also know I’m not the only one.

  36. My daughter Caitlin had Mr Rollins. He was one of her favorite teachers and such an inspiration to her that she is now going to become a teacher herself. I remember at Back to school night, the classroom was freezing and we were told “It’s time to take a quiz”. In that short 20 minutes he explained how he ran his class and we got to see it first hand. There are not many teachers like him.
    To his family and Penny you will be in my prayers and thoughts. Is there a scholarship in his name?

  37. Rich Rollins was indeed one of the good guys. It’s been a long time since I had him for math at Long Lots, but I remember his energy and sense of humor like it was yesterday. As a 2nd grade teacher, I credit great Westport teachers like Rich for modeling what it means to be a good educator. My thoughts and prayers are with Penny, his family and friends, and all those who felt his positive influence over the years.

  38. Rich was my swim coach for two years at SHS. Sadly, I had to quit swimming becasue of ear infections, but Rich was the one who encouraged me to play volleyball instead. I remember seeing him in the corner of the gym and even at a few games just checking in to see how I was doing…….A great teacher and coach he will be missed.

  39. Rosie DiGuido

    I consider myself extremely lucky to have interacted with Mr. Rollins in a number of different ways. I first met him in 7th grade. How many Michigan Belt Buckles did he have. I share all of the memories that his former students listed above. For this non-math enthusiast he helped me get through a grueling time. I then received more of his guidance for 4 years on the Staples High School swim Coach -I can’t imagine any man enjoying bus rides with screaming girls – but he always loved the thrill of the race and in ’94-97 we had AMAZING teams. But I think the memory I’ll always have of Mr. Rollins is lifeguard training. Treading water in the deep end of the Westport Y pool, waiting for a “drowning” victim to grab me from behind -needing to practice getting out of a death grip…Down came his massive arms…I was so scared I clamped my jaw and chipped my tooth – I did pass the training, and will always have a memory of Rich.
    Penny, I’m SOOOOO glad he met you and had love in his life. You sound like an amazing woman and I too believe GOD and Rich will be there for you as you make your way through this tough time. You are all in my prayers.

  40. Kara McKeever

    Like many of the posts by former students, I got to know Rich as my 7th grade math teacher and then as my swim coach at Staples. He taught my two older brothers, but he never made me feel like I walked in their shadows. After graduating from Staples I saw him many times in the stands supporting me and other swimmers at college meets, some of which were an hour or two drive for him. He always brought his huge smile and a stopwatch to mark down our splits. The memory of Rich Rollins, though, that I hold dear in my heart did not happen in the classroom or on the swim deck.
    I was a sophomore in college when my grandmother passed away. Being a resident of Southport her memorial service was held in a local church. Those attending were mostly family and close friends. As I waited for the service to begin, I saw Rich Rollin’s red Volkswagen pull into the parking lot. He must have read the news in the paper and decided to come to support our family. I cannot think of many people who would spend their afternoon at a memorial service for someone they had never met, but Rich Rollins did. His care for his students never ended at the classroom or pool doors. He will forever be the most influential teacher in my life. I had thought about trying to get back in touch with him the last few years to see how he was doing and to tell him how he was my favorite teacher…and how I ended up, somehow, becoming a middle school math teacher. I am truly sorry that I won’t be able to tell him. My heart goes out to Penny and his family.

  41. Firstly my deepest condolences to Penny and his family. Reading these many postsyou can see how much of an impact he had on his students. My daughter had him in 7th grade. I remember Back to school night so vividly, the classroom was freezing!! When we asked him about it he said that’s how he keeps his classroom. We also got a pop quiz-won’t say how we did. My daughter now is a junior in college studying to be an elementary teacher. I credit this to Mr Rollins and a few other teachers she had that made an impact on her. This is his legacy. I hope there is a scholarship in his name, if not one should be. Good bless you Mr Rollins and may you Rest in peace knowing you did a great job with our children.

  42. Lee and Marie Hawes

    Oh Rich Rollins, man of joy! How we will miss you! You were such a good friend to all of us. We remember your V.W.s, your pup tent and your distinctive moustache- but most of all we remember your good humor.

  43. I’ve been in touch with Rich’s sister Ann. I asked her to recommend a charity that would have been significant to Rich and I also directed her to this blog. Her response was as follows:

    “The blog comments are amazing. Rich had no special charity. That said, he always bought presents for Salvation Army kids at Christmas and gave money to the Red Cross.”

    She went on to tell the following tales of her brother, which I’m sure will bring a smile to all.

    “He just did an adult ed class on “what makes a good barroom brawl”; finished his first half marathon a month ago. At my husband’s wake a couple of years ago he introduced himself to people as the bus driver (there was no bus) and signed the visitors register as Alice Cooper.”

    Lastly, at my insistence, she provided her address:

    Ann Rollins
    2280 Van Buren St
    Eugene, OR 97405

  44. I’m one of Dick’s (that’s what we called him from an early age) first cousins who, like you all, thought the world of this guy. You may not know how he inspired me to develop a hobby that lasted for years: beer can collecting. I was pretty good, picking them up from every state and country that I visited, but I was never as good or thorough as he was. He had many hundreds of cans, all different. It was a wonderful hobby, and I’m sure that he would tell you that the aquisiition process wasn’t too bad either. He will be sorely missed!

  45. My deepest condolences to Rich’s girlfriend and family. I was on swim team, and will always remember him walking around the pool barefoot, warning us when he was coming into the locker room, and yes, those darn butterfly practices! The hardest decision I ever made was leaving swim team to be yearbook editor – but Rich never made me feel bad about it. He was supportive, warm, and deeply committed to his “girls”. Rest in peace, Rich – you are missed.

  46. Melanie Brownrout Honnor

    I too was lucky enough to be a member of the girls’ swim team at Staples from 1985-1988 and have Rich as our incredible coach . He was always inspiring, thoughtful and very, very funny. I never imagined that I would voluntarily choose to get out of bed at 5:00 am for a two hour morning practice, but he truly motivated us! Some of my best high school memories are of swim season. We were exceptionally lucky to be part of his team and experience first hand his love for teaching and bringing out the best in his students. My thoughts are with Penny and his family.

  47. Cheryl Kupan

    My thoughts & prayers are with all who knew & loved Rich.
    I have so many fond memories of Coach Rollins who made every swimmer feel special. He will be sadly missed.

  48. Susan, Craig, Sara and Caitlin LeHoullier

    This is shocking and sad news. The first time we met Dick was during the passing of Susan’s dad (Dick’s brother-in-law). His kindness, humor, empathy and presence helped so much to lighten up and make endurable such a difficult event. He was indeed quick with a joke, always watched from the background to lend a hand in any issue that arose. All of us felt like he was a long time friend – he was that comfortable to be around. He will be deeply missed…..Ann and Penny, you will both be in our thoughts and prayers.

  49. David Abrams

    I took Senior Life Saving from Rich back sometime in the early 70’s and then voluneteered as an instructor for several years through high school and then whenever I was home from college. Yes, the walrus, not only because of the mustache but also the grace he had in the water.

    He playfully terrified the smaller students and just as playfully attempted to tease fear into his swim team students who, with Rich, made sure that everyone knew it was all in play.

    It’s probably been 30 years since I’ve seen him but the fond memories of my time in the Y pool stay with me.

    Rich was a good, gentle, and playful man who’s friendship I have always treasured.

  50. Randy Letzler

    I answered the phone last night, it was my daughter who was clearly upset and said, Mr. Rollins died (trying to hold back tears.) Rich Rollins was warm, caring, funny and the BEST SWIM COACH EVER!!! My daughter, Marni swam for Staples from her Freshman year through her Senior year when she was Captain of the team and was so blessed to have Rich as her coach through all 4 years. His swimmers had great respect and love for him. Coach Rollins was one of a kind and will be missed.
    A Grateful Swim Mom,
    Randy Letzler

  51. Valerie Fulford

    Ruth MacAskilll and I want to leave a few words for Penny and Ann. A true friend and neighbour lost to us here in Englishtown. We will truly miss Richard. We still expect to see him arrive for his summer here. Richard was especially close to Ruth and as her friend he made a very big difference in Ruth’s life. His kindness and friendship will be mourned for a very long time. Thank you Richard for enriching our lives. May sunshine and green pastures accompany you on your journey.


  53. As the person who runs the Lifeguard programs in the State of CT for the Red Cross it is sad to see a legend like Rich pass. Rich is one of those “lifeguard legends” along with Bob Yovan. I first met Rich in high school while working at Westport Y. Like Bob Knoebel and many others I also played one of his “victims” for his classes.

    • Darren Yovan

      Nice of you to say that about my Dad. Really appreciate it! My Dad was great friends with Rich.

  54. I think of Mr Rollins at least once a week and have ever since I sat in his 7th grade math class in 1987. He was a brilliant teacher.

  55. Betty Haisten

    Wyatt and I had the honor and pleasure of meeting Richard at Christmas 2009. Penny and Richard came to Beaumont, Texas for the holiday…and a good time was had by all.
    Richard had been Penny’s strength and salvation during a very difficult time for her.
    To observe their relationship grow in to one of total honesty, trust, respect and love has been a joy for us as Penny’s parents. We too feel a tremendous loss of a dear friend who became part of our family.
    As to his beer can collecting …. last Christmas he was so proud when he came home from shopping and said” look what I found”….BETTYS BEER. Oh yes we will miss him!

  56. I can remember the room where we had math class at Long Lots. The back door always open -even in January. His short sleeve dress shirts (always blue) and of course the moustache. I was a terrible student especially in math and Mr. Rollins got through to me. He was a good guy. I remember the pop quizzes and trying to get extra credit by putting “Go Michigan” in the margin.

  57. As everyone else has said, Mr. Rollins was on of those teachers who inspired all of us to go above and beyond. The easy joke here is to say he got this die hard Connecticut fan to actually root for Michigan. The reality is, he convinced me to enjoy math and to look forward to class. I’m always telling Mr. Rollins stories… it is almost impossible to talk about growing up without a Mr. Rollins story. Many of his jokes are on this blog and I always loved his extra credit questions, but there is one that still makes me laugh when I think about it all these years later:

    “Draw a cute angel” was the question on the test.

    I drew an “acute angle.” I was wrong, but I never laughed so hard after getting a question wrong.

  58. I was so saddened to hear the news of Rich’s passing. I have so many fond memories of Rich through junior high and high school. When I was a senior and tri-captain of the Staples swim team in ’85, Rich hinted that as a parting gift he just might want a dog. So off we went–the three captains–to the Westport Humane Society to pick out a friendly mut in need of a good home. We presented him at the banquet at that evening, and as I recall, Rich named him Mickey. So, I wonder what adventures they had together? Looking back, I’m amazed that he would put such trust in us (three relatively clueless teenagers)–to pick out such an important companion. I can only hope they were a good fit. My deepest sympathies go out to Penny and Ann and all of Rich’s loved ones. Rich was a very special person and touched many lives. He will be missed.

  59. One of the best teachers I ever had….I’ll always remember him introducing a pop quiz with “take out a piece of paper and put your books away.” A great guy that will be missed. My prayers are with all who knew him.

  60. Christine Burmeister

    I am so sorry to hear that Rich is gone, at least physically. He was such a kind, caring person. I had to be one of the worst swimmers on the team and yet he never made me feel that way. He may have laughed at you, but it was because he liked you, with compassion and sympathy. I still feel prepared to save a life and wouldn’t hesitate to do so because of his training and the confidence he instilled. I am really so sorry, my condolences to his family and loved ones.

  61. Jackie Spring

    It saddens me to hear the news of Rich…he was kind, caring and funny – absolutely one of my favorite and most memorable teachers and swim coaches. Reading through all of these messages made me smile as I have shared many of the same fond memories as others – from the (what seemed to be daily) math quizzes in 7th grade to four years of high school swimming to the lifeguard drowning test with Rich that I dreaded for weeks! And of course, his fantastic moustache. Rich has obviously had a positive influence on many lives – and I am fortunate to have been one of the lucky ones to have known Rich. Thank you Rich for some wonderful memories – you are missed.

  62. Karen DeFelice-During

    Rich was one of those teachers who made an impact by simply being who he was and by challenging us each day in his own creative way. I remember, so vividly, the days at Long Lots Junior High School where he was my algebra teacher. We always had to be prepared for those “pop quizzes” he had stashed in his filing cabinet. You had to be sure to read the bonus questions carefully! “What color is an orange? ” I think that was my favorite! His quick wit and humor will never be forgotten. He took the time to get to know his students, and he really loved his work. I enjoyed seeing him again after I graduated from college and became a teacher and coach in Westport. My thoughts are with his family and loved ones.

  63. Rich’s commitment, his love of life and his generosity of spirit were not reserved for just a few — they were given to us all. To pass on these qualities ourselves would be to honor and remember a truly remarkable man.

  64. I was shocked to hear of Rich’s death. Ironically it was Mike Laux who told me, as we arrived in Westchester after competing at the YMCA Masters Nationals in Florida. Rich, along with Mike Laux and Mike Krein created a love for swimming competitively that I still have today. My high school swimming years are my favorite swimming memories, and I’ll always remember Rich’s walk down the bus as we traveled to meets, sitting with nearly each swimmer to explain their role in the upcoming events.
    I’ll also never forget the apprehension he nurtured in all of us over the lifesaving final water test! I recall him bringing in ‘ringer” victims like Rick Love, who would actually use baby oil to make him more difficult to control. Rich loved a bit of good natured mischievousness. Later, I returned to the Westport Masters swim team, and we shared the pool with Rich and his classes on Saturday mornings, and I was able to play the victim myself from time to time. Good fun! (No baby oil though!) I really missed seeing him once he retired.
    One of the great ones, taken far too early.

  65. Gregg Winters

    What terribly sad news this is. Rich was truly a great teacher, colleague, and inspiration to us all. We are all lucky to have had the opportunity to know him! Here’s one “Mr. Rollins” example that I will never forget… During one of his last years at Bedford, he had a custom screen saver on the computers in his room at the end of the year. As the last few days of the school year were coming to a close, Rich’s screen saver wasn’t counting down those last remaining days but proudly indicating how many more days were left until the beginning of the next school year! Rich will be missed.

  66. Jordan White

    I have been thinking about all these memories that so many people have shared, and that so many of us have – one of the most amazing things is this evidence of how many people Rich made feel special, from middle school math students to high school swimmers. When I moved to Westport in 10th grade and joined the swim team not because I knew anything about swimming, but because I needed someplace to belong, Rich gave me that belonging. I too never imagined that I would willingly get out of bed for morning practice, be able to swim 800 meters of butterfly, and look forward to summer ending because it meant swimming was starting. As my mom said above, I hope that I can pass along some of Rich’s qualities myself (minus that moustache…)

  67. Elizabeth Behrmann West

    I am so very saddened and shocked by the passing of Mr. Rollins. I had him for 7th grade math and will always remember those early morning extra help sessions, daily quizzes, checking the paper for Michigan’s most recent score. He believed in every single student he taught and brought a unique humor and fun to learning and life. Even after I had moved on to high school, college, and beyond, we kept in very close touch. He took a sincere interest in my life and my family, remembered so many jokes and stories between the two of us (better than I did!) and never forgot a birthday. He wasn’t just a teacher to me, but a mentor and most importantly a friend. I am so grateful I was able to see him & meet Penny just last month when I was in Tuscaloosa for a wedding. I can’t believe he is gone but know that he has made such an incredible impact on so many lives and will not be forgotten.

  68. I had Mr. Rollins for 7th grade math. I can still see him: blond hair, walrus moustache, and, often, a Michigan sweater. The classroom was at Sacred Heart, which was rented by the school when Long Lots Jr. High School was being renovated. Later, I took a lifeguard course from him at the Westport Y. The final test to save him from drowning. He “drowned” like he taught math – with gusto. Even 30 years later, I can feel that heavy, splashing, submerged, gasping and grasping man, as I tried with all my energy to save him. I couldn’t, and he failed me. I wasn’t shocked, or even sad. I knew he could only pass the most skilled, when there were lives involved. Man, he was one of those “teachers you never forget.” I wished I could have told him that.

    • THANKS, Rich — I think you just did tell him!

      Minor correction: Classes were held at St. Luke Church (around the corner), not Sacred Heart University, after the “200” wing of Long Lots burned down.

  69. Caroline Heatley

    Mr. Rollins was a tremendous teacher, spirit and individual. He was passionate about his job and the students he taught. He was an inspiration to many and helped to shape my choice to be a teacher and coach. I was fortunate enough to stay in touch with him over the years and continue to gain guidance and advice from him. Thanks for all your years of support. You were one of a kind!

  70. Because of Mr. Rollins, not only did I thrive in middle school mathematics, I will forever remember who invented Jell-O.

    RIP, Mr. Rollins. I live now in Ann Arbor, home of your beloved alma mater. One last “Go Blue!” for you!

  71. Mark Bregman

    Mr. Rollins inspired me and imbued a love of math. I went on to do a PhD in Physics and I’m now involved in the tech community and science and math education because of his inspiration. I just sorry that I never had a chance to thank him.

  72. What a Great Teacher and Person, ihe made a big difference for me at Long Lots … Created my interest in Math which eventually lead to my career in Technology

  73. lauren hawes

    Mr. Rollins was the only person to ever convince me that math was fun. He was an amazing teacher and no one will ever replace him as a teacher or a human being. His patience was dumbfounding, I can tell you because I do not absorb math. I contribute my success as an adult to his faith and determination to shape me into the person I am today. He will be greatly missed. The only other teacher on my mind as much as Rich Rollins is my mother. I have thought of him every time I see a math problem and will continue to see his unrelenting smile and walrus ‘stache. He was an amazing man and his spirit will live on in every single life he touched. Hey Mr. Rollins! George Washington’s white horse was WHITE!! 100% for me!

  74. Alanna Galati

    I have just heard the news of Mr Rollins death and am truly sad. I think of him often as I have struggled with math my entire life and yet his was the only math class where I felt that I ‘got it’ when it came to numbers. He encouraged me endlessly despite my struggles with the subject.

    The quiz question ‘who is buried in Grant’s tomb?’ is one that I employ when I hear someone say something silly and confusing. I remember the great flood of Bedford, Mr Rollins with other teachers wading through the water lapping into the building pushing stuck cars to the side of Riverside Avenue and calming the fears of nervous middle schoolers.

    Mr Rollins had an extensive collection of stamps and a huge network of people who lived overseas and would send him postcards. He knew that I as a 7th grader had just embarked on my stamp collecting career. He would save up stamps for me and give me bunches of them talking through which countries I should seek out for my collection. I remember envelopes with stamps from Madagascar and Canary Islands and all sorts of far flung places. We would have conversations about these far away locales and what they must be like. Today I live in a far away place from Westport and still collect stamps. I think of Mr Rollins so often. He made me feel smart and make me work harder. He was a truly great educator and will be missed.

  75. Pingback: Thank A Teacher | 06880

  76. It’s hard to express everything you feel for somone you have known for 42 years.
    Rich and I first met at the Westport Y when he signed on to be my assistant swim coach. He arrived as a new math teacher in town from the University of Michigan, having just broken 5:00 for the 500 freestyle ( a time I never came near). Shortly thereafter we rented a ‘beach house’ together at Compo where I got to know Rich’s math skills ( he handled the finances ) and the beginning of his beer can collection.
    After I got married and moved out, I no longer saw Rich on a daily basis. When our dog had puppies, we gave the first one to Rich. I saw him regularly at Staples swim meets as he had taken over as boys coach and later as girls coach. I was always giving him coaching tips from the sidelines, so in punishment he made me his assistant coach after my daughter Cristi graduated from the team. I learned from Rich the wonderful quality of the Staples Swim Team and the wonderful feeling of belonging that he had created. When he punished me again by retiring and telling me ‘its all yours’. He knew he had created a tradition that would carry on. We punished him back by creating an award in his name and making him the first recipient. I last saw Rich for an extended time when my family visited him in Nova Scotia. Rich woud always stop for a swim meet on his annual road trip to Alabama, and never stopted emailing me questions about the team and about our records. He was a fantastic record keeper for Staples Swimming.. He was truly one of the nicest individuals i have ever known and I think we are all a little better for having know him.

  77. I had him in middle school as my math teacher, at Bedford. He was a great guy. SO many fond memories of him. Its so true, his math tests had some funny questions on them. My favorite, “what color was George Washington’s white horse?” I would still speak of this even in recent time. I will miss him and never forget his math class. He was one of my favorite teachers. He and his family will be in my prayers. †

  78. i loved mr. rollins. i can’t believe he’s gone… he was one of my favorite teachers of all time… may his soul rest in peace.

  79. Peter Murrugarra

    Wow, just coming across this sad news now. Such a shame that he passed on and his approach to education won’t be enjoyed by future generations. I wasn’t the most focused student in middle school, lol, but even when he disciplined me for my lack of focus, I must admit it was with grace and humor, and I respected that.

    I later also took my Lifeguard course with Mr. Rollins, and am happy to say, I passed =). Later on, when the current Saugatuck Elementary School was still Bedford Middle School, I worked locally, and looked forward to voting during the workday, one, for the democratic process, and two, I knew that I was highly likely to run into Mr. Rollins at school, even though it was closed to students on Election day. I always enjoyed talking to him post my education years, and am glad that I was able to see him on those rare occasions.

    RIP Mr. Rollins, many of us will forever have your mustache, belt buckles, and personality etched in us for the rest of our lives…

  80. One of the only teachers I can say was a favorite of mine and many of my fellow classmates. Brought smiles to everyone’s faces, even though there was a quiz EVERY DAY in our 7th grade Math class. Such a long time ago, but what a great guy to remember. RIP Mr. Rollins.