By Jeanne Sager
MONTICELLO January 9, 2004 Children have lost one of their champions.
The consummate teacher, John T. Lawler passed away at his home in Canandaigua Monday.
A well-loved member of the Monticello educational community for 39 years, he was 72.
He was a wonderful, wonderful man, said Monticello Superintendent Eileen Casey, who served as Lawlers assistant from 1989 until his retirement from the head of the district in 1993.
Lawler started his tenure in Monticello as a physical education teacher in 1954, charming the kids as that favorite coach who would spend hours helping his students achieve their best on the track and off the field.
He later moved up to fill the athletic directors shoes, and held positions in turn in the school district from assistant principal to Robert J. Kaiser (the superintendent of schools for whom the Monticello middle school is named), assistant superintendent, deputy superintendent, and finally heading up the school as superintendent.
His legacy is far-reaching.
He was a coach to boys who are now prominent members of the Sullivan County community. He was principal to kids who remember Mr. Lawler for jumpstarting their careers in education.
He was the superintendent who helped bring Syracuse Project Advanced courses into the district to help kids prepare for college, the superintendent who sat down with the kindergarten teaching staff and wrote the curriculum used today for all students starting school in Monticello.
His passing left a lot of folks from Canandaigua to Sullivan County in tears.
Im very sad, said Buddy Goldsmith, former head of the Village of Monticello Recreation Department and one of Lawlers star athletes. There are people you meet in life when youre young who stand out in your mind.
You dont meet many of them, but John was one of them, he continued.
Goldsmith played soccer and track under Lawlers direction, and he remembers a coach who cared about his athletes lives beyond the sport.
John was a true supporter of young people, Goldsmith explained. He was one of those guys in my junior and senior years who got me through and made me look ahead.
Because of him, I became what I am, he added. All these years, Ive remembered him.
Lawler had that same touch on kids he knew as their administrator and as a father of a friend.
Ivan Katz is now the superintendent of the Eldred Central School District. But the Monticello graduate knows he wouldnt be where he was if it wasnt for John Lawler.
John Lawler is someone who truly made a difference in kids lives and in education, he said. Part of my foray into education is because of him.
As a close friend of Lawlers son, Kelly, Katz spent a lot of weekends at the Lawler home.
An Olympic athlete, Katz learned a lot of his craft from Mr. Lawler. Although he was already in administration and well beyond his coaching days, Lawler would devote Saturdays to teaching Katz to throw the discus.
The two would spend hours in the street throwing and measuring with an old tape measure Lawler found in his house.
He was quite impacting on me as an athlete and also as an educator, Katz explained. John Lawler was above all a gentleman who understood the importance of hard work relative to success, not only on the athletic field, but in life.
Those lessons always stuck with Katz, helping him through school and on his career path.
And he remembers a man who was never too busy to spend time with a child who needed something.
He had the passion that made him the consummate teacher, Katz explained.
Casey saw that passion as well.
She saw a man in charge of the schools who excelled at leading, but kept his eyes on the students.
He was very caring about everyone who worked in this school district, Casey said. And he always kept in mind the best interests of the students.
His talent was the ability to sense someones worth. Responsible for a lot of hiring during his years, Lawler put good people in the classrooms in Monticello, she said.
He really had a great sense of who would be effective in various positions, Casey explained.
Casey, Katz, and dozens of other people from the Sullivan County area took time off Wednesday morning to travel to Canandaigua and pay their respects to a great educator.
This is a big loss, Casey said.
And that seemed to sum it up for all who knew John Lawler.
Lawler is survived by his wife, JoAnn, sons Jay, Kevin and Kelly, and daughter Jill Ann Fogel.
Cards of condolence can be sent to JoAnn Lawler at 6 Andrews Way, Bristol Harbour Village, Canandaigua, NY 14424. In lieu of flowers, the family has requested that donations be sent to F.F. Thompson Hospital, Sands Cancer Center, 360 Parrish Street, Canandaigua, NY 14424.