Editorial: Kay Sheehan’s right reasons
GAZETTE FILE PHOTO Retired Northampton educator Kathleen M. "Kay" Sheehan, left, seen here in April 2011 with Priscilla Ross, died Monday at age 85.
‘I am happier here than I could be anywhere.”
That’s what the late Kathleen M. “Kay” Sheehan had to say about her job in 1975, six years after she became principal of Leeds Elementary School. Indeed, over her five decades of service to Northampton as an educator and civic leader, Sheehan found joy in all the different ways she contributed to the community she loved.
Sheehan died Dec. 31 at age of 85.
Along with her 23 years as Leeds School principal, Sheehan gave her time and expertise to numerous city groups and institutions, from the United Way of Hampshire County to the board of the Cooley Dickinson Hospital. She was the first woman president of the Greater Northampton Chamber of Commerce and helped found the Northampton chapter of Dollars for Scholars, which makes scholarship funds available to high school graduates.
No job was too large or too small for Sheehan. If it needed doing, she found some way to get it done — or she did it herself. After helping bring the flower buckets that now decorate the downtown, as a member of the Northampton Beautification Committee, she made sure the plants didn’t go dry, lugging buckets of water from her car up and down Main Street to water the plants.
At the other end of the spectrum, Sheehan oversaw the $6.7 million addition to the Leeds School.
Along the way, Sheehan was recognized for her service with awards and honors. When the Paragon Awards were created in 2004, she was the first to receive its Coolidge Award for a lifetime of community service. The Cooley Dickinson Hospital honored her 21 years as a board member by dedicating its children’s room to her.
No fewer than three buildings in Northampton bear her name, including the New South Street building that served as annex to the former D.A. Sullivan School, where Sheehan’s mother was a high school physical education teacher.
But those who knew Sheehan say celebrity was the last thing on her mind.
As longtime friend and colleague Lois Siegel said, “She didn’t do any of it for the glory, but because it was the right thing to do.”
Sheehan’s generous, tireless spirit inspired others — students, teachers and community members — to join her in civic pursuits.
While her legacy can be measured in the hundreds of schoolchildren she shepherded and the charitable causes she championed, Sheehan will be remembered, too, for her smaller deeds, for the personal touches she brought to her relationships with the many people she came to know in Northampton.
She was known for sending flowers for any occasion, along with notes of praise and encouragement.
Those who recall Sheehan from her years as Leeds principal remember the firm but gentle touch she had in guiding students and staff. In an article in 1975, soon after she took the job as Leeds principal, Sheehan described her views on discipline: “Students have to understand why you want things done in a certain way ... a fair and understanding philosophy seems to work well here.”
And so it was that everywhere she went, Sheehan was greeted by former students or citizens who had worked with her on one committee or another.
For the people she educated, influenced and helped, the civic and charitable ventures she promoted and for the example she set, we thank Kay Sheehan. Northampton is a better place because of her.
Snowy season duty
With winter looking like winter around the region, it’s worth noting that people should do more than bundle up against the cold when it snows.
Most urban areas require shopkeepers to clear areas in front of their businesses. That mandate is important because it enables people to travel their regular routes, including those who use wheelchairs and others who simply feel a little more tentative when out walking this time of year. Snow and ice make safe footing tough for all ages; last week, the Amherst elementary schools banned sledding during recesses for now because patches of weathered and trodden snow have developed a dangerous crust.
Clearing sidewalks is not only the law, it is thoughtful and neighborly.