By Elio Gugliotti, Editor
NAUGATUCK — On a sunny day in July 2017, Naugatuck High School’s then-new associate principal John Harris struck up a conversation with social studies teacher Tim Walsh on the high school’s patio.
“As a new administrator in a building you go and meet everyone superficially, but Tim was the first teacher here who I really talked to and who made me feel like a part of this community,” recalled Harris, who became the high school’s principal in 2018. “It was a sunny July day during my first summer, he was in the building for something, and we talked out on the high school patio. I forget the jokes, but I remember my laughter, and I’ll be forever thankful for the way he was authentic and open with me when I was new.”
The Naugatuck school system is mourning the loss of the beloved social studies teacher. Walsh died Sept. 10 — two days before his 51st birthday — after a three-year battle with colon cancer. He is survived by his wife, Jill Walsh, who is an English teacher at the high school, and their daughters, Keela and Shaelyn.
Calling hours are on Friday from 4 to 7 p.m. at Buckmiller Thurston Mengacci Funeral Home, 82 Fairview Ave. The funeral is Saturday at 11 a.m. at the Fieldside Pavilion at Quassy Amusement Park, 2132 Middlebury Road, Middlebury.
Walsh taught social studies at Naugatuck High — his alma mater — for 24 years.
“Tim touched the lives of thousands of students over the years as well as the lives of his colleagues and friends here at Naugatuck High School, and he will live on in all of us,” said John Tenney, social studies department head at the high school.
Tenney said Walsh was great at connecting with kids, who loved the way he would give them a hard time in a good-natured way if they stepped out of line or forgot some work they were supposed to do. He said students that Walsh taught in the past would always visit his classroom for a little back-and-forth banter and to trade friendly barbs about whatever might come up that day.
“As a colleague, he made work fun, whether it was debating politics, sharing stories of travel adventures, or planning pranks to play on colleagues,” Tenney said.
Harris said Walsh was kind, patient, funny, extraordinarily knowledgeable, and saw the good that exists in every student. He said Walsh believed in every child’s ability to grow and succeed. Walsh understood the importance of relationships and connections, Harris added, and sought to build those in the classroom and community.
“He valued the unique talents and abilities that all of his students brought to the table, and would advocate tirelessly for his students when they needed something,” Harris said.
After graduating from Naugatuck High in 1988, Walsh earned degrees from Gettysburg College and Quinnipiac University.
An athletic adventurer, Walsh swam competitively in high school and at Gettysburg College. He was a part of three Middle Atlantic Conference championship teams in college.
Walsh didn’t slow down after college. He was an avid for hiker, kayaker, traveler, scuba diver and cycler.
In September 2017, “Team Walsh” participated in the Smilow Cancer Center’s Closer to Free fundraiser bicycle ride to honor Walsh and raise money for the cancer center. About half of the group of two dozen riders worked at Naugatuck High or in the school district.
Walsh couldn’t participate in the ride in 2017 because of surgery to treat the cancer. He didn’t sit on the sidelines in 2018 and rode 40 miles with Team Walsh. He planned to only ride 25 miles, but when the course split he decided to follow the 40-mile course.
“There were a couple moments, getting near the end at 30-plus miles, where I was almost regretting the decision. But, at the finish, not at all. Those fleeting moments of misery washed away,” Walsh told the Citizen’s News in September 2018.
Harris said there isn’t a teacher or student at the high school that wasn’t impacted by Walsh’s death. He said Walsh and the school’s veteran staff members became a family over the years and he was a mentor and role model for younger staff members.
“And for our students, Tim was a beloved teacher — the outpouring of support they’ve shown has been incredible,” Harris said. “And yet as there is incredible sadness about his passing, we are all taking this opportunity to reflect and be inspired by the life he lived, and the impact he left.”