When Gloucester native David Curley first began teaching in 1977, the president was Jimmy Carter, disco music was the rage, and the median household income was $13,570.
While much has changed in the global and national spheres, Curley, 57, has remained a constant source of stability in the small school district of neighboring Rockport.
Last week, nearly 200 Cape Ann educators, family and friends gathered to give David Curley a grand sendoff as he retires after 35 years at Rockport Middle and High Schools.
The Gloucester native served in many positions, from teacher to dean to counselor and coach — but also friend, and colleague to students and teachers alike. At one point, he served as high school dean and also taught three middle school classes for 11 years. Although he was primarily a high school varsity soccer and hockey coach, he also coached middle school soccer.
The oldest of five children in the family of Nancy and Hugh Curley, his mother said he was always the most happy child, who was a good student and good athlete.
The recent event at the Elks on the scenic Back Shore was attended by several generations — including Curley's own fifth-grade teacher, Lois Arnold, from the former St. Mel's School in East Gloucester, now the home of Eastern Point Day School.
That was the year, Curley says, he decided he wanted to be a teacher. Arnold inspired him, and likewise Curley has inspired many others, from his 12-year-old nephew Christopher MacDonald to one of his former students, Paul Murphy, now the assistant principal of Manchester Essex Regional High School and a Rockport selectman.
"The first time I met David was in the fall of 1977. He was a 22-year-old social studies teacher and I was an 11 year-old middle school student," Murphy recalls. "David and I hit it off immediately. He enjoyed the give and take that is essential for a student-teacher relationship to flourish and is so critical in the life of a middle school student. That rapport with students still exists today and will remain part of his impressive legacy."
Murphy said it should probably come as no surprise that, in college he chose a career in education having been a student of Curley, who also coached him in both soccer and hockey.
"His presence in my life was a significant factor in that decision, which I didn't recognize then but certainly recognize now," he said. "Role models are important for kids as they progress through life. David was for me — and scores of others — that positive role model we needed."
Daniel Brundage, a RHS graduate of 2004 who currently works at the White House, shared Curley's legacy through a letter read to the crowd.
"Coach Curley has had such a positive and profound impact on his players that I find it impossible to sum it up in a few words," Brundage said. "He didn't only make you into a better soccer player, he made you into a better person. I realize now that soccer was obviously more than a game — there was a greater purpose. For me and many others, it was a dry run in life. What we learned by playing the game of soccer gave us the tools needed to succeed in everything that followed."
Craig Frithsen, a RHS Class of 1985 graduate, flew in from Colorado to take part in the event.
"I speak for hundreds of kids who would say the same thing," he said. "What makes a school is not the bricks and mortar but the people inside it — the people who care about the kids. Curley always tried to help kids make good decisions, and as a coach, he taught us to be smart and strong, and to be a good player with class and grace and style."
Among the gifts he received was a special place in posterity on the school grounds.
Athletic Director Mary Ryan noted that Curley's career as a teacher was dedicated to making connections with students. Before she presented the major gift, she talked about the school's "three wise men," referring to retired athletic director Stephen Rowell, whom the gymnasium is named after, and George Ramsden, a retired Rockport educator of 44 years. The school drive is named Ramsden Way.
"You now will walk through the David M. Curley courtyard to get to the Rowell gymnasium," said Ryan, noting that the court yard is just before the middle school entrance where the large plaque will be displayed.
Curley, who will continue as varsity soccer coach this fall. also received a citation from state Sen. Bruce Tarr, an oil painting and other mementos. In closing, Curley said to work in education is truly special, although at times, it is filled with disappointment but it is also filled with joy and excitement.
"A teacher affects eternity," he said. "You can never tell where your influence stops."
Gail McCarthy can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3445, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.