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Students and staff hold an emotional sendoff for "Mr. T."

An emotional Bill Tirone beams with pride as School Board member Miriam Brown announces the re-naming of the Ashland School gymnasium in his honor during a surprise assembly celebrating his retirement after 40 years of service. (Ashley Finethy) (click for larger version)
June 13, 2012
ASHLAND—What do you do to celebrate the retirement of someone that has been part of the school and the Ashland community for more than 40 years?

For students and staff at theAshland School and the entire community, thanking Bill Tirone for his 40 years of service wasn't just about a retirement party. With some twists, turns and surprises, the "Mr. T" retirement celebrations were anything but ordinary.

The fun, games and surprises began on Friday, June 8 in the Ashland Elementary School gymnasium, where the man known affectionately by all as "Mr. T" sported a cap and gown to finally receive his diploma and graduate from Ashland Elementary School.

"We are here to celebrate 40 years of service to the Ashland School, the Ashland youth and the Ashland community," said Superintendent Phil McCormack. "I think we are also here to thank him, and we may have a surprise or two."

Though the entire Friday morning assembly was a surprise, the assembly started with McCormack reading a proclamation from New Hampshire Gov. John Lynch, who commended Tirone on his vision, dedication and unwavering support for children in his time at Ashland Elementary School.

After the proclamation, teachers Mrs. Peirce and Mrs. Sewall took the stage as each grade came to present Tirone with a class gift and give him hugs or gratitude for all he has done for them. The Kindergarten presented him with a basket of pasta making supplies.

"He makes pasta with the kindergarten every year, and it has become a tradition," said Peirce and Sewall.

Other grades presented him with gifts including an inflatable pink flamingo (Tirone's favorite animal), Home Depot gift cards, plants for his garden, photos of the entire school and airplanes and kites.

Tirone was also presented with the "Seven Wonders of Mr. T," which highlighted the morals and values that he worked to instill in the school, from responsibility and safety to learning to never make the same mistake twice.

The biggest surprise of all was presented by school board member Miriam Brown, who presented Tirone with the honor of naming the Ashland Elementary School Gymnasium the "William J. Tirone Gymnasium."

"Mr. T's career started as an athletic director in 1972, and I am honored to announce that as of today, this building will be hereby known as the William J. Tirone Gymnasium," said Brown.

On top of having a gymnasium sporting his name, Tirone was also award a diploma to make his "graduation" from the Ashland Elementary School official.

"The Ashland School Board thought that after 40 years at the elementary school level, we think it's time that Mr. Tirone graduated from the Ashland Elementary School," said Brown.

After a morning of surprises, Tirone took to the podium in shock and awe of the morning he was anything but prepared for.

"Having a building here that we started 40 years ago, and to have it named after me is really only a dream that people live for," said Tirone. " I want to say thank you to the entire student body and staff and the school board, administration and the students that I have had over the past 40 years."

Tirone also admitted that when he started in Ashland in the 1970's, he wasn't planning on staying for anywhere near as long as he did.

"I said yesterday that this is a pretty good run for a two year stint," said Tirone. "When I first came here, I said that this would be a stepping stone to be here for a couple of years, and here I am times 20."

That 40 years of work and dedication at Ashland Elementary School, Tirone credited to everyone that helped and inspired him to be the best he could be and work as hard as he could. His thank you's included shout outs to McCormack, Gary Burton and John Clark.

"Along the way, I have met some really great people who have inspired me to be the best that I could," said Tirone. "Some days, it worked, and some days, it didn't."

No matter who inspired him and who he worked with, Tirone ensured that in his 40 years at Ashland Elementary School, he never lost sight of his only focus: the students.

"There was one focus and one focus only for every teacher that stepped through here, and that has worked here with me — not for me, but with me," said Tirone. "It is the focus of you, the students."

At the end of the assembly, Tirone admitted that he doesn't do well with surprises and not knowing what is going on, but admitted that he was completely surprised by the assembly.

"I knew there was something going on tomorrow, but I had no idea there was something today," said Tirone. "So you got me."

Tirone was equally moved at his retirement party the following day on June 9, and it was certainly no surprise that the Ashland Elementary School cafeteria was packed full with faculty, students, teachers and community members eager to share their memories and express their thanks for Tirone's years of service.

Former student Tony Randall spoke about Tirone when he first started at Ashland Elementary as a coach and athletic director.

"When Bill started here, I was in sixth grade, and he coached all the sports in Ashland when he started," said Randall. "He was never a basketball coach, but he gave it his all."

Randall talked about baseball rides to Marlboro, Mass. in Tirone's rusty van with gymnasium chairs unfolded in the back and rust holes in the floor. Despite making the best of every situation, Randall also noted that Tirone took situations into his own hands as often as he could.

"What I learned about Bill is that he handled things in house, and didn't call the police for every little thing," said Randall. "Hopefully, he passed that on to the next principal."

Dr. Gary Burton also mentioned his natural coaching ability, telling a story about when Tirone was an athletic director and an incident occurred that made Burton realize Tirone's natural leadership and coaching.

"I knew Bill as a gym teacher," said Burton. "An incident happened in the gym one night that made me believe that Bill wasn't being used to his full potential."

A young man was behaving badly, and Tirone confronted him and dragged him out of the gym. After a few moments, the boy returned with his father, Tirone confronted both of them, and after an altercation, he was dragging both the father and his son out of the gym. Burton explained Tirone's no nonsense approach as, "When the only tool you have is a hammer, all of your problems look like nails."

At the end of sharing stories with plenty of laugher, Tirone once again took to the podium with nothing but gratefulness and thanks for everyone in the school and community.

"This past week has been just unbelievable for me, with just one surprise after another," said Tirone. "I like to know what's going on, and not knowing gives me an uneasy feeling."

Tirone thanked everyone from his administrative staff, mentors, large family and the community for all of their support and love over the past 40 years.

"Without all of this support, none of this would be possible," said Tirone. "I thank the community for their undying support to make Ashland School what it is. Today is as good as it gets, and I want to say thank-you."

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