Kids first

Posted 12/2/21

Blake Simpson was a seventh grader at Aldrich Junior High School in 2002 when Gerald Habershaw was the vice principal. Simpson went on to Pilgrim High School and Habershaw moved on to become principal at Veterans High.

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Kids first


Blake Simpson was a seventh grader at Aldrich Junior High School in 2002 when Gerald Habershaw was the vice principal. Simpson went on to Pilgrim High School and Habershaw moved on to become principal at Veterans High.

Throughout Simpson’s high school playing career they would chat when Pilgrim played Vets. Fourteen years later it came full circle. Both were at Pilgrim. It was 2016. Habershaw was principal and Simpson was assistant football coach.

Later that school year the head football coach position came up and Simpson got the support from Habershaw who served on the hiring committee. He was one of the only ones who believed in him, Simpson recalled. 

“You’d be a great head coach if we are able to hire you,” Simpson recalls Habershaw telling him. 

In 2019 17 years after they first met, Habershaw watched Simpson hold up the Division III High School Football State Championship trophy.

Such faith in students and adults was a Habershaw trademark.

“Gerry and I went to college together,” former Mayor Scott Avedisian said Tuesday in a telephone call. He remembered visiting Habershaw when he was principal at Vets and Habershaw asking what is at the heart of the Hurricanes? Habershaw provided the answer; the words “I CAN.”

Avedisian said that is what Habershaw was about, “he would say stop selling yourself short…he saw the good in every student he came in contact with.”

Then there is John Simoneau Jr. who Habershaw coached as a Vets basketball player from 1995 to 1999. Habershaw recognized Simoneau’s talent as a player and quickly moved him up to the varsity team.

“He used to call me the White Dennis Rodman,” said Simoneau with pride. Habershaw also recognized Simoneau had a short fuse.

“He would tell me to go outside if I has having a hot moment,” said Simoneau. That was Habershaw. He knew the students and their limits.

Many Habershaw memories

These are just three of the countless stories circulating since Habershaw, 57, died Saturday from complications resulting from Covid-19, according to his brother David.

“My brother Jerry is gone,” he wrote on Facebook Saturday. “He had a massive heart attack complicated by COVID-19.”

"We are shocked and saddened to learn of the passing of Gerry Habershaw. He was a beloved member of the Warwick School Community and a mentor, friend and colleague of us all,” Superintendent Lynn Dambruch said in a statement on Sunday. “Our condolences go out to his family and the Pilgrim Community. Gerry always cared about his students and staff.”

After graduating from Bishop Hendricken, Habershaw attended Providence College where he earned both his bachelor and master degrees in education. 

After graduating, Habershaw returned to Warwick as a Pilgrim special education teacher before going about a half mile down the road to Aldrich where he served as an assistant principal before becoming principal at Warwick Vets before moving to Pilgrim. 

In total he served for over 30 years in the Warwick School Department. 

The last two of those years have been the toughest not only for Habershaw, but also teachers and students everywhere. Habershaw chaffed at the experiences and what students were losing because of the pandemic and distance learning. He went to lengths to give students what they were missing. The Class of 2020 got to walk across the Pilgrim stage albeit that fewer than 30 people were in the school auditorium with everyone properly distanced and masked. The Class of 2021 commencement was held outdoors at Aldrich Mansion grounds overlooking Narragansett Bay.

As vaccinations became plentiful and available for teens and as regulations relaxed, Habershaw looked to bring back those events and experiences the pandemic robbed from the high school experience including homecoming.

Homecoming dance

In the wake of the Pilgrim Homecoming dance on Nov. 6 Habershaw and Social Arts Coordinator Cindy Rix were placed on paid administrative leave after videos of the dance showed Habershaw, staff members, adult volunteers not wearing masks as required.

The action provoked an outcry from the Pilgrim community. Social media posts wrongly said Habershaw and Rix had been suspended and faced losing their jobs. A petition calling on Governor Dan McKee to intervene and save Habershaw’s job was launched.

Dambruch responded in a statement last week saying,  “video footage related to the recent Homecoming Dance was seen on both the local media and Instagram social media. This footage appears to show potential violations of RIDOH and RIDE guidance, as well as the Governor's Executive Order(s) and School Committee policy and therefore it is currently being investigated.”

As of last week there were 70 positive cases of COVID at Pilgrim according to Assistant Superintendent Bill McCaffrey.

In an interview Tuesday School Committee member Karen Bachus said that the Committee had nothing to do with the investigation up to this point and said that it is proper protocol to have an investigation when there are allegations of things like misconduct. She said its also proper protocol for employees to be placed on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of it.

“You do an investigation not to find people guilty but to find out the facts,” Bachus said. She noted that she hopes the investigation will be completed this week. 

When finalized Bachus said the Superintendent and District Administration would decide what they believe is the appropriate recommendation for the School Committee.

From there the School Committee will then deliberate and decide what the best thing to do is given the recommendation and the facts of the investigation.

“The committee has nothing to do with the investigation until it's complete,” Bachus said. 

She said that no disciplinary action has been taken against Habershaw and Rix.

Mayor Frank Picozzi said he never thought Habershaw was in danger of being fired. He was critical of those who blame school administrators and the media for what has happened.

“It’s a natural reaction to find a culprit and for people to blame. Instead of doing that we should be mourning and show comfort to the family,” he said.

Bachus told the Beacon on Tuesday that Habershaw was a “dear friend and a wonderful man who cared so much about people.”

“He was a beloved and valuable employee and one of the best principals Warwick has ever had,” she added. 

School Committee member David Testa reflected on how his middle and youngest daughters attended Pilgrim while Habershaw was principal. Testa also got to know Habershaw as a member of the Pilgrim PTSA and as a member of the school department’s Building Committee. 

“It was obvious to all how deeply he cared about his students and how dedicated he was to his school. There is no question that Mr. Habershaw left his mark wherever he went as teacher, coach and principal,” Testa said. 

, who graduated from Pilgrim, said that Habershaw wasn’t just the “best principal but was the role model and the best motivational coach that we could’ve asked for.”

 “He was always the number one person students would go to if they ever needed anything and made everyone smile every time we saw him. He would always make the best out of every moment and he had a heart of a warrior every day he came into Pilgrim,” Tylor said.

“Without him, many people wouldn’t have graduated, he made sure everyone was at their best potential and created memories with every single person he met as his job as principal. He would sing songs in the hallway and when it was nacho day he would clap and get everyone hyped up. And he was the light of the show every time we had a pep rally he would keep the spirits high throughout the entire year.” 

Tylor said because of the impact that Habershaw has had on the community he thinks that they should rename Pilgrim after Habershaw. 

“Many people would love to see Pilgrim High School change to his name. We are already planning a human signature get together this weekend to make the name change possible. Habershaw will always be in the deepest part of our memories,” Tylor said. 

 When asked what the process is to rename a school in Warwick Dambruch said “At this time the school community is mourning his loss.  We need to focus right now on supporting students, staff and families.”

Renaming the school is not an idea being embraced by Picozzi. He pointed out that the community was likewise shocked when beloved Toll Gate Principal Stephen Chrabaszcz died suddenly in 2016. A garden and conference room at Tollgate has been named after him in his honor.

Congressman Jim Langevin who said he was a friend and classmate of Habershaw’s at Hendricken said in a statement Sunday “Gerry was a larger than life figure, and he was an outstanding educator who was beloved by his students.”

On Monday, Hendricken’s President Fr. Robert L. Marciano, and Mark R. DeCiccio issued a statement reading “We join the Pilgrim High School and Warwick families today in mourning the tremendous loss of Principal Gerry Habershaw, a 1983 Bishop Hendricken alumnus and 2014 inductee into our Hall of Fame. Gerry was a true Hendricken man, using his many talents and gifts for the service of others. He always made his Hawk family proud in his noble chosen profession of teaching, coaching, and leading.”

“At Bishop Hendricken, Gerry was a standout student-athlete in football, basketball, and baseball. It is clear that, in becoming an educator and administrator, he has given back to the next generation of Warwick students tenfold,” the statement went on to state. “Gerry was a revered, beloved, and respected principal whose impact on Warwick has been incalculable. We are confident that Gerry’s spirit and legacy will live on through his students, faculty, and staff.”

On Sunday night Molly Burke created a Go Fund Me page to raise money for Haberhsaw’s wife, Beth. As of Wednesday morning $13,000 was raised. The Class of 2022 also is in the process of raising money for the fund by selling shirts and sweatshirts in honor Habsershaw.

“Some family is blood related whereas other family is chosen. Gerry Habershaw was this kind of family member,” the Go Fund Me description reads. “Anyone that knew Gerry was personally moved and impacted in a great way. He was the light in every room he walked into and also the craziest, and funniest. Because we knew Gerry, our lives will forever be changed and our holiday get togethers will never be the same.”

Remembering Habershaw

  Funeral services for Habershaw will take place at 10 a.m. on Saturday, Dec. 4 at St. Kevin Church in Warwick, according to his obituary. 

Visitation will be held Friday from 3 to 7 p.m. in the Thomas & Walter Quinn Funeral Home located at 2345 Warwick Ave. 

A live stream of Saturday’s funeral mass can be viewed at

Bishop Hendricken will hold a remembrance mass at the school-wide Mass on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception on Wednesday, Dec. 8 at 9:30 a.m. 

Habershaw, kids


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