“It kind of feels like we’ll be getting up in the morning and Mount Monadnock is not there.”
That thought came to mind when this week the Boston Globe finally got around to reporting the passing of a national treasure: New Hampshire’s own Bob McQuillen, awarded a National Heritage Fellowship by the NEA in 2002 for “having a central position in the New England traditional dance music scene for more than fifty years.”
The obit was nice enough for the man my generation knew as “Mr. Mac” – the larger-than-life personality who made each and every member of the usual stratified high-school society – e.g., the jocks, the greasers, the music nerds, the honors students, the theatre types, and most especially those who were failing at the fringes – feel special, valued, and unique.
But I think the true essence of the man – and why he meant so much to so many in both the school corridors and music halls – is better captured in a terrific remembrance written by Dave Anderson of the Monadnock Ledger-Transcript. Great slideshow to boot.
McQuillen, who had moved with his family to Dublin, was hired to teach industrial arts at Peterborough High School after graduating from Keene State. He founded a weightlifting group at the school and quickly became one of the most popular teachers.
“He had such a positive attitude,” said [Butch] Walker, his former student. “He never missed our games. He encouraged us all, both honor students and kids like me who’d screwed up.”
Walker said McQuillen was the one person who kept him in school.
“He was the guy who sat me down and said “You’re staying here,’” Walker recalled. “By senior year, I’d made the honor roll. He hunted me down and just hugged me. Now he’s been my best friend for 60 years.”
Jill Lawler of Peterborough got to know McQuillen when she started teaching at Peterborough High School in the late 1960s.
“He was a bigger-than-life personality, this ex-Marine with tattoos before they were fashionable,” Lawler said. “He had this trademark yell to get people’s attention in the cafeteria or the hall. He was the only person I’ve ever seen who could quiet a gym before a basketball game and talk about sportsmanship. And the kids would listen to him.”
Amen to that. There was also the time that Mac – shop teacher by day, contradance composer by night – co-taught a Music Theory class Richard Sanders, the school’s beloved music teacher. As Dick Sanders told me, “McQuillen would come up with a dance tune on the spot – which was this remarkable gift he had – and I would fill in the harmonies and explain them. We joked about it probably being the only instance of a shop teacher and a music teacher teaming up to teach theory.”
And now, decades later, here I am at WGBH, I amazed and pleased to see this 1974 clip from the old kids’s TV show Zoom that’s been making the rounds among Mac’s admirers, featuring his young protoge -and future pennywhistle virtuoso – Sarah Bauhan:
And can’t let this post go without hearing Mac’s most famous tune, “Amelia,” played by Zoë Madonna.
The torch has been passed.