Michael Forde Dead At 63
By: Michael C. Bailey
Family, friends, and colleagues are mourning the passing of a man who lived to improve the lives of children he knew, and turned a personal tragedy into a fighting chance for children he didn’t know to live long lives themselves.
Michael J. Forde died Monday morning at Sandwich’s McCarthy Care Center at the age of 63, after a nearly yearlong fight with cancer.
“This is a great loss for Mashpee,” Selectman Theresa M. Cook said. “Mike touched so many people’s lives.”
Mr. Forde, who taught reading in the Mashpee schools for 17 years, was in November 2008 diagnosed with B-cell lymphoma, and underwent several months of treatment to eradicate the cancer doctors found in the base of his stomach. In an interview with the Enterprise conducted days after his first round of chemotherapy, Mr. Forde expressed characteristic optimism about his chances of recovery.
“This is very treatable and the outlook is very good,” he said, adding that his form of cancer was traditionally 80 percent curable.
Mr. Forde’s passing came about a day and a half after the town wrapped its annual Oktoberfest celebration, an annual tradition he established 23 years ago.
That family event is just one of the many ways Mr. Forde affected the community over the years. He was a past president of the Mashpee Arts Council, which planned a variety of community events until its dissolution in 1997 (it was replaced by the Mashpee Special Events Committee); and served on the Boys & Girls Club of Cape Cod’s board of directors.
Steven M. Babbitt, principal of the Mashpee Middle School, worked alongside Mr. Forde from 2000 to 2004 in his capacity as the high school’s assistant principal, and said Mr. Forde always shared his sense of community commitment with his students.
“He gave them life lessons. He instilled in them not just how important their education was, but how important a lifelong commitment to the community was,” Mr. Babbitt said, adding that Mr. Forde never acted out of self-interest. “It was never ever about Michael Forde. It was always about how he could help the kids, how he could help the community.”
“Almost every day you’d walk into the building and see his shopping carriage waiting for coat donations, canned goods or whatever he was doing for the kids,” teacher Kerri M. Brodie said. “He always had kind words and encouragement for every student and teacher.”
Cheryl Belanger, an MHS math teacher, first met Mr. Forde during a tragic time in the Mashpee School Department’s history: February 2002, when 12-year-old Pamela L. Barberio, a Quashnet School student, died of bacterial meningitis.
Ms. Belanger and Mr. Forde spent a Saturday afternoon prepping letters to parents, and the two developed a bond over their common loss of a loved one to cancer. “We had an automatic common thread,” she said, “although I doubt that I would feel any differently about him without it. He is the type of person I would like to model my life after.”
Mr. Forde’s loss was that of his son, 15-year-old Timothy F. Forde, to T-cell lymphoma in 1996. Mr. Forde responded by establishing the Timothy Fitzgerald Forde Memorial Fund, and each year, along with his wife, Joan, and many family members and friends, held an annual golf tournament to raise money for the fund, which provided MHS students with scholarships and supported the Jimmy Fund for cancer research.
Selectman John J. Cahalane said Mr. Forde’s work on the tournament was the most visible proof of his giving, selfless spirit. “He was the type of guy who worried about everyone and put everyone in front of himself,” Mr. Cahalane said. “The tournament did so much good for so many things, like the Jimmy Fund…it’s really a great loss.”
Patricia L. Parolski, former superintendent of the Mashpee schools, co-interviewed Mr. Forde for his job at Mashpee along with Charles Liberty, at the time the principal of the original Mashpee Middle School (now the Quashnet School). He was hired to teach a combined classroom of fifth and sixth graders “who needed someone unique to get them going,” Ms. Parolski said, “and it didn’t take long for us to decide he was right for the job...at the end of his first three years we said, ‘We can’t lose this guy.’ ”
During his time with the Mashpee schools, Mr. Forde spearheaded numerous programs and projects, such as the Mashpee Summer Institute, which took students on a series of day trips across the Cape and Massachusetts; an annual MHS winter coat drive; the “Teach for a Day” program, which gave high school students a taste of the education field by allowing them to teach an elementary school class; and the 9/11 memorial project for the Mashpee bike path along Route 151, which started as a project for his grade eight class.
Gary Janulewicz, a former technology teacher at MHS, said Mr. Forde’s work on the 9/11 memorial was a testament to his ability to get kids motivated and involved in their community, noting that the students went out on a Good Friday—a day off from school—in 2002 to conduct a major spring cleanup of the area. “I was so impressed he was able to do that,” Mr. Janulewicz said.
Mr. Forde also established the “International Hall of Flags” in the MHS front hall, a display of flags from across the nation that welcomes visitors to the school. “I always think of him when I see the display of international flags hanging in the front hallway of our building of which he was so proud!” MHS teacher Nancy Schroeder said. “I do hope his spirit hangs around the halls of Mashpee High School and Mashpee Middle School for quite a while. It’s too soon to say good-bye.”
Ira R. Brown, MHS principal from 1999 until 2006 and now the principal of Springfield High School of Science and Technology, recalled the first day he arrived at Mashpee High, and his first encounter with Mr. Forde. “I saw this gentleman putting up these signs” with inspirational messages on them, such as, “Success comes in cans, not cannots,” Mr. Brown said. “Those signs stayed up the entire time I was in Mashpee.”
“That speaks volumes about Michael Forde,” Mr. Brown said. “When you think of the word ‘teacher,’ you think of Mike. He was the teacher’s teacher…the man cared about the children he taught, and he cared about the faculty.”
MHS colleague Edward W. Furtek echoed those sentiments. “Mike Forde was a teacher’s teacher. He had a big heart and always put kids first,” Mr. Furtek said. “He was involved in so many things in the community that losing him leaves a great hole in our lives and the town.”
Christopher Maguire, a member of the Class of 1996 who had Mr. Forde as a teacher, called his former mentor “a wonderfully brilliant man…Mr. Forde was arguably the finest educator to ever serve the children and families of Mashpee. He was a community leader, activist, and innovator, who embodied the very essence of selfless civil service, and community spirit.”
“As a lifetime educator, he had the distinct honor and responsibility of educating ‘his kids’ in both an academic sense, and in the many variables of life,” Mr. Maguire said. “It was those life lessons—lessons of faith, fortitude, bravery, civility, generosity, and public service—that will serve as the legacy of our beloved, and now sadly departed, community patriarch.”
MHS teacher Susan Curtis said Mr. Forde’s connection with the students was evident during school dances, which he often organized. “He would wade into the crowd with his camera and take lots of pictures of the students who would mug for him,” Ms. Curtis said. “The next day, he would post the pictures in a display case in the hall. The students loved to see the pictures of themselves. He ran the best dances.”
Mr. Forde retired from teaching in 2004. In honor of his years of service Brian A. Hyde, a longtime friend of Mr. Forde and his family, wrote a special farewell song that extolled Mr. Forde’s humor, generosity, and his pride in his Irish heritage. The song went, in part:
Yeah, we’re laughing and drinking,
Nothing feels better than hanging with Forde,
Mike’s our favorite Eagle, ‘Our Best Friend,’ and our reward.
Let’s raise a glass together,
And drink with our dear friend.
We thank the Lord for his service,
May Mike’s lessons never end.
“He was a great friend with the most positive attitude and he had tremendous unconditional love for others,” Mr. Hyde said.
“We sorely missed him when he retired a few years ago and were happy to see him occasionally as a substitute,” Ms. Schroeder said. “I have had a strange feeling the last couple of days when I walked into the teachers’ room. I half expect him to be there with a story to tell and with that mischievous laugh attached to the end.”
“Mike Forde had the respect and admiration of every educator and student in the building. He always had time for a student or for a new teacher,” said Dana Smith, an MHS social studies teacher. “He often defused conflicts between students, and was liked by many students who probably did not like many teachers. He made it a point to be sure that each student had a warm coat, and he always made it a point to be respectful toward everyone.”
“Mike always kept everyone busy, aware, engaged, and even entertained. He had a fabulous sense of humor, and always seemed to have an appropriate story to tell,” Mr. Smith said. “Even after he had retired a few years ago, Mike continued to attend events and would substitute teach at times; it was great to keep seeing him around.”
In his John’s Pond Estates neighborhood, Mr. Forde served as president of the neighborhood association for an unprecedented 26 years. As the association’s representative, he not only went to bat for his neighbors at town committee meetings, he acted as a watchdog for Johns Pond itself, keeping a careful eye on water levels and reporting any major variation to town officials.
“I knew Mike through our many conversations about the water levels at Johns Pond,” Town Manager Joyce M. Mason said. “He was always a professional, and always willing to make sure the property owners were protected.”
Mr. Forde was born in England and raised in Forest Hills and later Jamaica Plain. He graduated from St. Andrew’s Schools and Mission High School in Roxbury, then went on to graduate with bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Boston State College.
He taught in the Brockton Public School system for 20 years, 17 of those years spent at the Downey School, and was a former vice president of the Brockton Teachers’ Union.
Mr. Forde is survived by his wife, Joan M. (Heffron) Forde; son Michael J. Forde and daughter-in-law Katie Butler Forde of Dedham; sister Sheila Giltrap of Austin, Texas; sister-in-law Patricia Joyce Forde of Needham; and nine nieces and nephews. He was predeceased by his son, Timothy Fitzgerald Forde and brother, Patrick C. Forde.
Visiting hours were held yesterday afternoon and a funeral Mass was to be held this morning at 11 o’clock at Parish of Christ the King. Mr. Forde was buried at the Old Indian Burial Ground on Meetinghouse Road.
Donations in lieu of flowers may be sent to the Tim Forde Memorial Fund, in Memory of Michael J. Forde; or to the McCarthy Care Center, 73 Service Road, Sandwich, MA 02537.
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