Everyone who knew Pat has a Pat Harrington story, says the first message on a Facebook page dedicated to the memory of the man who was principal of Selkirk Secondary for 18 years until his retirement in 1997.
Those who knew him and were affected by his role as a teacher and administrator quickly began to share stories, from poignant to funny.
“He believed in Management by Walking, strolling the hallways like it was his beat, stopping to rub his back against a teacher’s door jam like a big ol’ bear. “How was your weekend, Coach?” he’d ask, then point a finger at a student and growl, “You…you…was that you fishtailing down Rotary Friday night? Why I oughta….”
“Sometimes as a teen I felt invisible and alone. Mr. Harrington would see me sneaking away trying to escape some class I hated. He would call me to him and ask me how I was, “what can I do to help you Roslyn?” He cared and it was genuine. I will never forget him. He has popped up in my mind through the years and I realized as time went on how unusually perceptive he was with picking out who needed him.”
“A few days later, I got called back into his office. On his desk was every essay, homework assignment and test I had taken in English that semester. He had spent time to go through and read every bit of it, and determined that the mark I was getting wasn’t warranted, and had more to do with the dislike the teacher and I had for each other than with the quality/effort of my work. My grade was corrected, and I had no more difficulties in that class.”
“Pat was one of a kind. His impact is so far reaching that 50 year old grown-ups wept when we heard of the passing of our high school principal. In my school, on my staff, three of us had Pat as a principal. The morning we heard the news, we cried and shared stories – because everyone has stories – of how he touched our lives and the lives of our friends and siblings. We left the office to greet the kids with the promise to “be a little more like Mr. Harrington”. What a wonderful thing to strive for.”
Son Chris Harrington says the tributes are a great comfort to the family and “overwhelmingly wonderful”.
Both Chris and his brother had their dad as their principal when they attended Selkirk.
“You forget he was principal to all these other people too.”
Chris says he had the opportunity to be called to the office once by his dad.
“My dad was a good guy and I was a pretty good student. He just said, hey, don’t let it happen again and you knew it wouldn’t.
“He had a fantastic sense of humour and he loved to laugh.”
Chris describes his dad’s role as principal as “management by wandering around’.
“He’d go to work really early in the morning, like 6:30, and get all his paper work done. Then during the day, he wander the halls getting to know kids. He was really good at connecting. He recognized the kids who might need a gentler hand and a bigger push.”
Chris says the legacy left behind by his father, as evidenced by the heartfelt stories on the Facebook page is unbelievable.
“I think that dad got as much from the kids as the kids did from him.”
A JP Harrington Memorial Scholarship has been organized by Selkirk staff member Jeff Pew and there is a Go Fund Me page that has already collected over $5000.
Pew describes Pat Harrington on the Go Fund Me page as someone who saw the potential in every student. He believed in the underdogs and the challenges kids face in school. He recognized the invisible ones and believed their voices mattered, that they needed to be heard. He stood up for kids that didn’t have a champion. The ‘Pat Harrington Effect’ was felt by everyone who struggled and everyone who thrived.
The scholarship will go to a Selkirk student who Pat would have, most likely, called into his office to talk about the challenges they face and every time he bumped into them, he would have given them that little nudge to remind them that they mattered, that they’re important to the world, that he had their back.