A tribute from retired, former colleague Tony Canuel
I remember it like it was yesterday… although it was far from it! It was the Spring of 1979. Having just graduated from Fairfield University, I had just been hired to teach Biology and Chemistry at Prep. Having gone through the interview process with Prep legends (Principal) Fr. Jim Bowler, S.J., and (Science Department Chair) Fr. Eugene Brissette, S.J., I was instructed to wander up to the 4th floor of Xavier to meet a couple of my colleagues. I made my way up to an office adjacent to one of the Biology labs and saw two young men relaxing after a long day of teaching Science. Both of them were in their twenties like me and sported full beards, as did I. Something that Fr. Brissette said to me during my interview now made sense. He took one look at me and proclaimed, “My department has become the House of David.” The always clean-shaven Jesuit was referencing an Orthodox Jewish baseball team from the 1920’s. The two men greeted me warmly and welcomed me aboard. One was Michael Dalton, who would only work one more year at Prep. The other was a gangly, be-speckled kid who oozed enthusiasm, intensity and the need to go on his next run! He introduced himself as Bob Ford. We would go on to be colleagues and friends for the next 35 years!
I learned very soon that Bob had, despite being at Prep for only a couple of years, earned quite the reputation for being a demanding teacher. His name would appear with regularity in the bathroom stalls of Xavier, Berchmans and, back in those days, McAuliffe Hall. He had acquired the moniker “Bio Bob” and the scribblings in the stalls would begin with it, followed by verbs that shouldn’t be mentioned in polite company. Bob was not only a demanding classroom teacher. Apparently he was also among the faculty leaders in handing out JUGS! (Rumor had it that Bob was seriously considered for the position of “Dean of Discipline.” Thankfully, for the many Prep students he taught, Bob remained in the classroom!) Bob immediately became the teacher I wanted to emulate: set high expectations in and out of the classroom, be fair-handed and stick to your guns! Bob Ford has worn a number hats over his 40-plus years at Prep and in each and every endeavor has applied to himself the same standard of excellence that he demanded of his students.
It is difficult for me to imagine a Prep without Bob Ford. His vision and leadership in the science department as chair and teacher were invaluable to the development of the science program. His willingness to be innovative and dedication to staying current have helped to bring Prep Science to where it is today.
His career as a classroom teacher was unparalleled. Bob has taught classes in all of the scientific disciplines…Biology, Chemistry and Physics…and done so with equal dedication to excellence. In addition, Bob’s name has been synonymous with the teaching of Environmental Science at Prep. A disciple of Fairfield University’s Professor Sal Bongiorno, Bob was always on the vanguard of environmental awareness at Prep and in Fairfield County. His dedication to the notion that to be “Men for Others” by necessity included being staunch stewards and protectors of the environment was unwavering. His field trips to swamps, marshes and sewage-treatment plants are the stuff of legends. As a long-time coach of Prep’s Cross Country team, Bob applied the same enthusiasm and devotion to excellence. Whether you were the fastest or the slowest runner didn’t matter. You just needed to give it your all and be a good teammate. Coach Ford constantly instilled in his harriers that XC was a team sport, not an individual one. As a bonus his charges were also treated to the kindness and wisdom of his Dad, Bob Ford Sr. Under their tutelage Prep’s program became a model of success and sportsmanship.
It is difficult for me to imagine a Prep without Bob Ford. His vision and leadership in the science department as chair and teacher were invaluable to the development of the science program. His willingness to be innovative and dedication to staying current have helped to bring Prep Science to where it is today. If you talked with Bob today you would feel the same passion, intensity and zeal for teaching science that I sensed those many years ago. Sure, the beard has gotten a little grey and those runs and bike trips may have shortened a bit, but Bob’s love of what he does has not dimmed. Although it will be a huge loss for Prep, it’s time to take a step back, spend time with Peggy and the kids, and go on all those adventures not yet experienced! The Galapagos and the Artic await, my friend! Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam! Go Prep!!
—Tony Canuel, P'99,'05, retired science teacher
Bob Ford Jr. shares Farewell message...
In May 1977 I was a senior at Fairfield University soon to graduate with a biology degree and a teaching certificate. By chance I heard about a biology teaching position at Fairfield Prep. Fr. Jim Bowler SJ was the Principal at Prep then and lived at the other end of the residence hall where I was a Residential Advisor. While on duty one night I stopped by to ask him about the job and our conversation turned into a formal interview even though I was outfitted in a t-shirt and shorts. A few weeks later I had a job offer and a three-year plan to get started on my teaching career.
With no returning bio-teachers at Prep I had a lot to figure out on my own and put in 60+ hour weeks just trying to keep up. At the time we were surrounded by Jesuit faculty so our Jesuit identity was never in question, but there was not a lot of formal formation – you became a Jesuit Educator by osmosis, and a science teacher with a lot of hard work. An occasional Fr. Brissette fervorino about our primary goal for the coming year being “to survive” helped keep things on track.
At the end of the three years, I was getting married (thank you Fr. Allen, S.J.) and heading off to full-time graduate school when Father Bowler made me an offer I couldn’t refuse – finish grad school and come back to teach. Prep would even help pay for grad-school. That was really the moment Prep changed my life.
When I returned, I took on responsibilities as Department Chair, started an outdoor education program at the school, initiated our Environmental Science course, got another degree, and began a 33-year coaching career for Cross Country and Track. I served on committees, ran many outdoor adventure trips, and got involved in our mission trips. I added Chemistry and eventually Physics to my teaching repertoire. I started teaching at Fairfield University. My wife Peggy and I bought a house, raised four children all of whom have had a Jesuit education (Daniel, Prep ’03; Andrew, Prep ’05; Colleen, College of the Holy Cross ’11, and Emma, Fairfield Univ. ’15). I even got to coach with my Dad for 30 years; I think we made a good team and we had some success. For me Prep is a family affair.
Since the late 70’s the face of Prep changed – fewer Jesuits and many more women on the faculty. We have a much more diverse student body thanks to the deliberate efforts of many at Prep. At some point I became a teacher of the sons-of-former-students who would ask if I ever JUG-ed their dads. I always answer “yes, ask him what he did to deserve it.”
Now that I prepare to retire from full-time teaching, I treasure all the things Prep has done for me. I have found enthusiasm and excitement in my students – they do keep me feeling young. I deeply appreciate our Jesuit mission with its sense of direction and purpose – it is not just a job. I have been supported and befriended by administrators and fellow faculty; without this collegial support teaching can be tough, with it, it is a joy.
I make it a point to avoid thinking “that was the best time of my life,” instead I like to think “that was great, what’s next?” I look forward to doing all kinds of wonderful things in the years to come, but Prep will always be a major part of who I am. I hope I have shaped Prep for the better as well.
—Bob Ford Jr. P'03,'05. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org