Remembering Dan Sullivan

Dan Sullivan — a longtime teacher and administrator, who had a profound impact on the Westport Public Schools — died Monday, surrounded by his family. He was 81.

Sullivan (not to be confused with the Staples High School Latin teacher with the same name) began his career here in 1964, as a Long Lots Junior High School math teacher.

He was named department chair in 1969, then vice principal in 1973. In 1986 he moved to Coleytown Elementary School as principal. He retired in 1997; served as a special assistant for building, planning and construction, then returned full-time in 2001 as principal of Greens Farms Elementary.

Those are the facts. But they don’t convey the warmth, empathy or great good humor that made Dan Sullivan a legend in Westport education.

I was not exactly an Einsteinian math pupil. But I had Mr. Sullivan in 8th grade, and he made math actually fun. Like any great teacher, he loved his subject. But he understood that not all of us would be mathematicians — and that was okay. He also had a wicked sense of humor.

Dan Sullivan

Later, when I was a substitute teacher, Long Lots was a favorite school. Mr. Sullivan fostered a warm, loving schoolwide environment. I saw how he treated every student sent to the office as a special individual, worthy of his time, his ear and his respect.

In the 1980s and ’80s, Long Lots had a very complex schedule. Classes were varying lengths: science labs were long and met only a couple of times a week; foreign language classes were short but met often, for example.

Because of those time periods, very few classes let out at the same time. The halls were never crowded — the bane of any school.

It was a brilliant schedule. It was devised completely by Mr. Sullivan — all by hand. Many schools could have benefited from the setup. Of course, no other other had a Dan Sullivan to create and implement it.

And — this would never happen today, for many reasons — he allowed a neighborhood dog the free run of school. One day Doozer wandered in to Long Lots, and never left. He roamed the halls, sat in on classes, and lay down in the cafeteria.

Most vice principals would have called Animal Control. Mr. Sullivan turned a blind eye (when he wasn’t petting him). It helped make Long Lots feel not like a school, but a home.

Mr. Sullivan had a similar impact on colleagues throughout the Westport Public Schools. He was an innovative thinker, a wise mentor, and a very funny guy.

Dan Sullivan graduated from Milford High School in 1957. He earned a BS from Southern Connecticut State College, an MS in secondary supervision from the University of Bridgeport, and certificates in advanced studies for administration and supervision from Fairfield University and Teachers College, Columbia University.

He later became an adjunct professor at both the University of Bridgeport and Sacred Heart University.

Mr. Sullivan is survived by 4 children: Kevin of Los Angeles, Maureen and Lorna of Philadelphia, Daniel of Fairfield, and 6 grandchildren. He was predeceased by his wife Lorna.

A private service will be held tomorrow. Donations can be made to Alzheimer’s research, in his memory. Click here to send condolences to his family.

18 responses to “Remembering Dan Sullivan

  1. Thank you, Dan, for personifying this wonderful man so lovingly. He was a magnificent instructor and guider of teachers as well as children. He touched many lives and will always be remembered.

  2. Our family knew and loved him at Coley El – a truly wonderful guy.

  3. Dan was a wonderful human being, my goodness. I have so many memories but two of my favorite was at Coleytown junior high school when we were there for my much younger sister‘s graduation he told my mother that my seat in his office was still warm from all the times that I had to be disciplined. She had a difficult time with humor because of her language constraints, but she laughed at that one. The sweetest thing about Dan was how much he loved the children. One of his favorite duties was playing Santa Claus at the annual Holiday assembly when he was principal at Coley El. He was so kind to my kids it was very special to me and I will never forget. RIP Dan. Condolences to his family.

  4. Sometimes at dinner, my son would laugh too hard to finish a story about Mr. Sullivan’s math class. I watched Dan get bigger jobs with bigger influence in Westport, but I was always a little sorry that he didn’t teach seventh grade math at Long Lots forever.

  5. He welcomed our family into Coley El pwhen we first moved to Westport. It was in that first meeting that we knew we had moved to the right place. He was incredibly warm, present and truly understood the needs of children.We are all fortunate to be the benefactors of his leadership and kindness.

  6. Melinda Hemson

    i remember Mr. Sullivan from Long lots in the early 80’s. He seemed scary at first but once you got to know him, he was kind, funny, and most of all, fair. I was too scared of my mother to get into trouble at school so I didn’t know him in that respect. I also remember Doozer coming into the cafeteria every day at lunch time. He was an amazing dog and I’m so glad Mr. Sullivan was kind enough to let him hang out with us!

  7. Dan was the principal at Coley El when I knew him. He was one of the greats of Westport education , along with Glenn Hightower. Kindness, empathy , wisdom, and the assurance to me as a parent that all would turn out OK was invaluable to me . I miss his kind of leadership – not always by the book, but by the heart . Rest In Peace , condolences to his family .

  8. In the 80s Mr. Sullivan established a program to have Long Lots students provide lunches to the Gillespie Center. He did this in the face of fears by some parents that they students would contract AIDS. Of course they couldn’t and one of the parents, an internist, spoke to the parents to give them the facts and told them he was proud to have his children serve at the shelter. He was a visionary leader and community supporters.

  9. Darryl C. Manning

    Mr. Sullivan (hard to call him Dan) was my math teacher when I was at Long Lots Jr. High in the 1960’s. He made math come alive for me. So much so that I intended to major in math in college and become a teacher. I never did, instead majoring in Social Work. When I brought my daughter to Long Lots for Kindergarten some 20+ years later Mr. Sullivan greeted us. He was kind and caring. Just what you need in a school teacher or administrator.

  10. I met my wife at Long Lots. She taught world languages and I started as a social studies teacher and then segued into being a computer teacher. We taught in adjacent classrooms assigned to us by Dan Sullivan. I guess I owe a lot to Dan because of this fortuitous scheduling assignment. Dan was an exceptional administrator and helped to create a school environment that spread to the school’s staff. The staff was exceptionally loyal to Dan and exceptionally loyal to each other so much so that even after Long Lots ceased to be a junior high school or middle school the staff continued to meet, party and toast Dan and the School he helped create. I will miss Dan and my Long Lots days. And I am forever thankful for his scheduling assignment which allowed me to meet and marry Mrs. Honeycutt.

    • Melinda Hemson

      Mr. Honeycutt, I was at Long Lots when you and your wife were both teachers there. I had Mrs. Honeycutt (then Ms. Barbario) for Spanish all 3 years of middle school and I’m almost positive I had you for Social Studies in 8th grade. In any case, I got to watch your love story unfold in school. Then when I went to Staples, you both ended up there as well where I had Mrs. Honeycutt again for Spanish. In any case, you were both my favorite teachers at Long Lots!!
      Also, Bill and Kathy from Quigley Electric say Hi! (They are my parents)

  11. Dan Sullivan was a fine man and a wonderful educator. He was principal of Coleytown Elementary when I first moved to Westport in the 80’s, and my two oldest sons attended there.

    I want to tell a story about him here.

    Their mother was diagnosed with cancer around the same time we arrived, and our family entered into what was a very difficult period in our lives. The boys started exhibiting behavioral problems and were disruptive in class, often getting sent to Dan’s office. I got called in a few times myself and was always in awe of the skill and compassion with which he handled the them. He was a busy guy and could easy have gotten angry with them, but I never saw that. While he was firm, he knew what they were going through and was consistently patient and kind. They respected him, and he always succeeded in settling them.

    Their mother knew she was dying and wanted to stay at home with our family, which she did. She was in a coma with us for the last several days of her life. I’ll never forget the day she passed. I had sent the boys off to school as usual on the bus and was upstairs trying to get organized for my day when the nurse, who was staying with us, came up and told me what had happened. I took a few minutes to compose myself and then called Dan’s office with the news. I asked him to get the boys out of class but not to say anything to them until I got there.

    When I arrived, he had them sitting in front of his desk, suspecting what the news was I was pretty sure, but not knowing for sure. I told them, and both of them started crying uncontrollably. I wasn’t in the best of shape myself. As busy as he was, Dan must have spent an hour with us that morning. Things didn’t get any better for us in the months that followed, but Dan watched us carefully and was with us every step of the way.

    Both boys graduated from Coleytown and eventually went on to happy marriages and successful lives. This was an early crisis for them, however, that could easily have dragged them down irretrievably. Dan was one of several people, some of them teachers working under him, who at the time were there for the boys and helped them make it through.

    I think most people go through their lives not fully understanding the impact they’ve had on others. I have no way of knowing whether or not Dan knew all the good he did, but I’m certain that we were only one of many families he helped over the years. I’m sorry we’ve lost him now, but he lived a great life. I’d like to help make sure his own family knows much they have to be proud of in his memory.

  12. Dan Sullivan was a wonderful educator as human being. He could be tough, but was eminently fair and generous.

  13. Werner Liepolt

    A great educator and colleague. We knew him as a kind, thoughtful, thoroughly good influence on our son. Such sad news.

  14. Dan Sullivan was a class act and a people person, genuinely warm and welcoming. We always knew our girls were in good hands because he was at the helm.

  15. Steven Halstead

    Westport was so fortunate to have had Dan Sullivan be with us and our children for so many years.
    As a parent and a BOE member for 12 years, I knew Dan as a teacher, as a principal and as The District’s coordinator for the Schools Strategic expansion plan. He was a superb educator, administrator and always cared about the kids, staff and parents and was always a gentleman.

  16. I was the PTA co-president the last year that Mr. Sullivan worked before he retired. He was a very capable administrator, a little old school — I say affectionately. He convinced me not to hold back my daughter when she entered K at 4 years old. Many memories, but one of my favorites, was when my daughter was in 5th grade she was sent to his principal’s office to be disciplined for an incident on the bus (I think). In a later meeting me, he told me he met my daughter, and then complimented her with how mature and articulate she was in arguing her side of the case! His passing brings back such wonderful memories of Green’s Farms. All my condolences to his entire family. He spoke of them often!

  17. Dan, Thank you so very much for this post and your perfect description of the man, the LEGENDARY, incredible human that Dan Sullivan was…from his brilliant modular schedule, to his interaction with students and staff, to the beloved Doozer who poked his head out of the cafeteria to check if Dan was in the hallway. Dan was that genuine, compassionate, creative, brilliant man who treated everyone… student, teacher, colleague with respect. As a staff member at Long Lots from 1975 to 1987 I always felt supported and nurtured. I often shared with friends a description of the magical place I was so fortunate to have spent my early years as a music teacher. I will never forget the afternoon that Dan quietly knocked on my classroom door to tell me that my very young daughter was ill and needed to be picked up at her nursery school. “I’ll cover your classes…you go take care of your daughter”, he said. His creativity in scheduling enabled me to have the only 7th & 8th grade chorus in our townwide Junior High (Gr. 7-9) structure. If it was something positive and good for the students, Dan was always there to support it. One of my favorite memories of Dan was the way he could settle down the entire student body assembled in the Auditorium for any event. It took just one word….in a somewhat booming voice, “HEY!”…then, complete silence. I was in awe of this gentle giant of a man. The world is a better place for his positive and productive time on this earth. And so many lucky students, faculty, family and friends were the beneficiaries of his kindness. To Dan’s family…my heart goes out to all of you. In the words of Helen Keller,

    “What we have once enjoyed and loved we can never lose. All that we love deeply becomes a part of us.”

    I am so grateful for having had the opportunity to know Dan Sullivan.

    With much love,

    Alice Lipson