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. 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.
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).
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.
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.
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.