Remembering Gerry Kuroghlian

You could call him Dr. Gerald Kuroghlian. But — to thousands of admiring Staples High School students and their parents during his 43-year teaching career, then after retirement countless women at Mercy Learning Center and 12th graders at Kolbe Cathedral — he was simply “Dr. K.”

One of the most revered educators, wide-ranging intellects, giving human beings — and a friend to all who met him — Dr. K. died peacefully last night.

He had battled pancreatic cancer for years. He spent 4 years undergoing chemotherapy, outlived every other member of his drug trial, and left this world on his own terms. He recently stopped treatment, and spent his final days hearing tributes from men and women he’d touched during his 40 years at Staples, and then more than a decade after retirement.

Calling hours are tomorrow (Friday, November 19, 4 to 8 p.m., Lesko & Polke Funeral Home, 1209 Post Road, Fairfield). A memorial service is set for Saturday (2 p.m., First Church Congregational, 148 Beach Road, Fairfield.)

Click here for Dr. K’s remarkable obituary, and to sign the online register. Continue reading below for more about his life and impact.

Dr. Gerry Kuroghlian

Dr. K arrived at Staples during the tumultuous 1960s. He helped spearhead many of the curriculum changes in a brilliant, feisty English department. But he never lost his high standards. He challenged students to write well and clearly. He helped them figure out the world through courses on Shakespeare and “Myth and Bible.”

More than that, he attended their concerts, plays and athletic contests. He asked about their robotics teams and skateboarding hobbies. He knew every student — and their families — intimately, and cared for them all as if they were his closest relatives.

He did the same for his teaching colleagues. As a longtime Westport Education Association leader, he fought tirelessly for better salaries, benefits, and teaching conditions. He was a thorn in the side of many principals and superintendents. They may have resented his ferocity, but they never doubted his passion.

Dr. Gerald Kuroghlian was a proud supporter of the arts. Here he is with former Staples choral director Alice Lipson.

That passion continued after his retirement. Dr. K. was one of “06880”‘s earliest Unsung Heroes. See below for a tribute from 2017.

I have hundreds of Dr. K. stories. Here’s one;

A couple of weeks ago — when I heard he’d stopped chemo treatment — I called. Ellen — Jerry’s beloved wife — answered.

“Can he call back?” she asked. “We’re taking an online course about the Holocaust, and this lecture is fascinating.”

Dr. Kuroghlian will live on in the hearts and minds of 5 decades’ worth of students, of all ages.

And — befitting his legacy — his name will live on too. Friends have organized the Dr. K Humanitarian Award through Staples Tuition Grants (click here) and Mercy Learning Center (click here).

Though ill, “Dr. K” enjoyed breakfast a few weeks ago with friends. (Photo/Dave Ruden)

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In September of 2017, “06880” honored Dr. Gerry Kuroghlian as one of our first Unsung Heroes. Here’s that story:

As a new school year begins, it’s appropriate that this week’s Unsung Hero is a former teacher.

Generations of Staples High School students revered Gerry Kuroghlian. For nearly 40 years, “Dr. K” — his doctorate was from the University of Illinois, with an undergrad degree from the University of Virginia — taught Westport teenagers how to write, how to think, and how to act.

Gerry Kuroghlian, in the 1973 Staples High School yearbook.

Kuroghlian was totally invested in the life of Staples. If there was a play, concert or athletic event, he was there. His challenging classes like “Myth and Bible” were as demanding as college-level courses.

But he never forgot that he was working with still-unformed boys and girls. His greatest delight came from helping mold them into active, concerned citizens of the world.

He never missed an Eagle Scout ceremony, celebratory dinner or parent’s funeral either.

When Kuroghlian retired in 2008, some people wondered how he’d fill his days.

They needn’t have worried.

Kuroghlian quickly became one of Mercy Learning Center‘s most active volunteers.

He taught ESL at the heralded Bridgeport women’s literacy and life-skills center. His new students — women from Mexico, Bangladesh and all points in between — loved him.

He returned the admiration.

“These are heroic people,” Kuroghlian says admiringly. “They’re moms, housekeepers, breadwinners — they do it all. They’ve got multi-tasking down to a science.

Kuroghlian calls these women “the best students I’ve ever had. They get up, get their kids ready for school, catch a city bus, and arrive promptly by 9 a.m.

“No one is ever late. No one ever has not done the homework,” he says admiringly. “They’re motivated to learn, and they’re completely unafraid to ask questions if they don’t understand something. They’re amazing.”

After class, the women work on computers. They also go on field trips. When Kuroghlian took them to a library, they learned how to get library cards for their kids.

Kuroghlian is equally involved at Kolbe Cathedral High School. He spends most afternoons at the Bridgeport private school, as a tutor, SAT and ACT advisor, and college application essay guide. Thanks in part to his help, virtually every graduate for nearly a decade has gone on to college.

Gerry Kuroghlian works with a Kolbe Cathedral senior on his college essay.

At Kolbe, Kuroghlian organizes cultural field trips to Fairfield University and New York City. Just as he did at Staples, he attends sports events, chaperones the prom, and continually shares his philosophy that it is the responsibility of each individual to make a difference.

He also arranged for over 1,000 books to be donated to the library.

In his spare time (!), Kuroghlian works with national education organizations, cancer and diabetes groups, the Westport Library and United Church of Christ.

Nearly 10 years after “retiring,” Dr. K. shows no signs of slowing down.

Why should he? He’s continuing the work he loves: Showing teenagers how to make their mark on the world, by doing it himself.

Dr. K.

 

 

21 responses to “Remembering Gerry Kuroghlian

  1. Revered colleague, mentor to countless, educator nonpareil… so good to have known you so long, so sad to see you go

  2. Vanessa Bradford

    He was always Mr.Kuroghlian to us students at Staples and a most exceptional teacher!

  3. OUSTANDING, CARING MAN AND EDUCATOR. One of the best people I’ve ever known. This is wrenching news.

  4. With Dr K we were never wrong, we just had to prove to him that we were right. I realized later in life that he was the first person who taught me critical thinking. I valuable life lesson. He was a great one in a department with other legendary Staples teachers like Karl Decker. We had no idea how lucky we were.

  5. I was honored to call you friend; may your memory be a blessing.

  6. A lovely tribute to a very special man who made a difference in so many lives. My heart goes out to Ellen, his family and huge circle of friends. May his memory be for a blessing.

  7. Incredible the way Dr. K was able to bring his passion for teaching and his commitment to his students to school each and every day through his long career. He was provocative, spirited and had a huge heart. I’m thankful for having known him.

  8. Staples English class 1991, while learning about Shakespeare, a few of us who sat first row agreed that over the course of the 60 (?) minute class we’d gradually move all of our desks closer to him (his desk was in the middle of U-shaped concentric circles around him if I recall correctly) and see if he’d realize. About 59 mins in, he finally realizes when we’re about a foot away. He didn’t get mad, he reacted with glee that we’d pull that trick on him. I think he also knew how much we liked him. Was a fun high school memory, and only made us like him more. RIP.

  9. Oh, Dr. K. Peace.

  10. Rabbi Cantor Shirah ( Lipson) Sklar

    A brilliant educator and wonderful human being. I was so fortunate to have been his student. His memory will always be a blessing in my life.

  11. What a nice, nice man. My kids loved him. My heart felt condolences to his family.

  12. What an amazing man, and he will be missed. His passion was infectious, and he was able to do something few can do: help teenagers understand Shakespeare. His enthusiasm for shaping your life would extend beyond graduation, and he was always there if you wanted to talk.

    RIP, Dr. K. You’ll be sorely missed.

  13. Dr. K was one of the teacher I will always remember. He pushed me hard and taught me way more than just Shakespeare. He was a very special man. In my senior year yearbook he wrote this very personal take on a Shakespeare line “The GOOD that men do does live after them.” Amen, Dr. K

  14. The motto of my high school in Michigan was “Enter to learn, go forth to serve.” I can’t think of a more worthy embodiment of that mission than Gerry.

  15. Andrew Colabella

    His classes changed your life. Taught you to write and see things differently. All comments and thoughts were accepted. He would get so excited as each comment was presented and we got closer to the answer. Taught people to accept others for being different but to learn from them.

    Tough grader, but extremely fair. I’ll miss him.

  16. He encouraged me greatly as a senior in 1970, supporting me in independent study that had an output in poetry, original music and photography. Looking back at it, I guess the idea was flaky, but he encouraged creativity. It was a highlight of my Staples career and gave me confidence to pursue a career in writing. Thank you, Dr K!

  17. Dr K taught me something important unrelated to the Shakespeare class I took from him. He pulled me aside one day truly concerned with my mental state of being. He knew I was having problems and he knew what they were. He said to me “wait twenty minutes when you’re upset to cool down before talking to someone you’re upset with.” It was a valuable lesson. Thank you Dr K for taking the time to pay attention to people, regardless of how terribly they were doing in your class.

  18. Simply put, he was a great man!! Fair winds Dr K.

  19. “Gerry the K,” as he was known in our family, was an adored family friend, an admired teacher and a cherished colleague of our mother’s. He was a gifted educator with an enormous heart and a special capacity to connect to others in a way that changed lives. We were so lucky to know him – he will be sorely missed. I will never forget that smile. Ellen, our hearts are with you.
    Dan, I want to thank you for helping those of us who grew up in Westport (and consider ourselves to be “Westporters” regardless of where we live) stay informed and connected. Mostly, thank you for honoring the remarkable people who have touched and shaped our lives.

  20. A Prince of a man, a great educator, and a fierce advocate for every student including those with special needs

  21. Dan, what a beautiful tribute to this remarkable man…an esteemed colleague, a passionate educator, a mentor and a friend. He singlehandedly worked to repair our world—one student, one colleague, one friend at a time.
    My heartfelt condolences to Ellen, to his family, his students and to all who were fortunate enough to know him. His memory will forever be a blessing.

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