Pat’s retirement means loss of an icon


High school seems so vast, a sea of faces, classes and information rushing past you. We learn and forget simultaneously. We form friendships and watch them dissolve.

That is why any society must have infallible icons, pillars of strength to draw comfort and a sense of order from.

I was lucky enough to interview one of our community’s most colorful members, Patricia Conlon, or Pat for short. Unlike many teachers, administrators and staff members at our school, Pat comes into contact with nearly every student at some point in his or her high school career.

If you have ever bought lunch in the right-side cafeteria line, then you have probably experienced Pat’s unique and unforgettable blend of genuine kindness and coarse sarcasm. Pat retired on March 30, but she will be remembered forever by her sizable fan club of students and faculty.

As a child, Pat could not afford to buy lunch at school. In eighth grade, she began working in her school’s cafeteria for 10 cents a day, just enough for an ice cream.

Since then, Pat has not stopped working. She was the oldest of seven children who never had anything, only each other, according to Pat.

She said that when her family moved from Charlestown to Medford, it was one of the poorest families in the area.

“I had one dress and everybody else had six,” Pat said. “I didn’t care.”

Pat read voraciously as a kid. Her favorite books were War and Peace and Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy and Dante’s Divine Comedy, especially Purgatorio. However, Pat’s family never had any books of their own.

“I’d go to the library and pick the fattest books because I hated when a book was overwith,” she said.

When Pat was 16 years old, she earned her GED and began working full-time. Pat began her career in Brookline working at Lincoln School on Oct. 28, 1986.

“But I didn’t like the little schools,” Pat said. “I liked the high school because I liked the kids better. I feel like I’m one of them. The kids keep you young.”

She’s been working in Brookline ever since.

When you speak with Pat, you never know what you’re going to hear. I learned that she is directly related to Hannah Duston, the first American woman to be immortalized by a national monument for heroically escaping her Native American captors in the 1600s. You can pick out a hard-boiled family resemblance there.

Pat makes a point of knowing names, for which she has a knack. It’s not often that an employee working with 2,000 students can greet most of them by name. She always looks out for kids who seem to be struggling, and she tries to push them towards the right path. Her family struggled with alcoholism, so she doesn’t touch the stuff. She said she wouldn’t want anyone to get mixed up in it because life is already hard enough.

Although Pat has overcome amazing obstacles in her life, she always stays positive. She always seems genuinely interested in what you have to say or she tries to make you smile.

“I don’t think kids change too much. Situations change, pitfalls change, but kids stay the same,” Pat said as parting advice.

A genuine personality is a scarce commodity in high school. There’s so much change occurring that it can sometimes seem overwhelming. This is why Pat is such an important member of our community. When you talk to her, it’s both humbling and comforting. She keeps your feet on the ground when you’re being swept up by the strangeness of life.

Because of Pat’s retirement, the school will be short one iconic figure, one symbol of strength and one incredible friend.


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