Those who know the Milford schools best say there's something different and even a little special about . And they say a big part of that reason is longtime principal Francis "Andy" Anderson, who retires Tuesday, capping a 38-year career as a teacher and administrator.
"All of our schools are amazing in their own way, but there is a different feel at Memorial," said Superintendent Robert Tremblay. "It's an older school and smaller, and it does feel more like a family, and there's no question he is the reason why."
Lisa Firth, the assistant principal at Memorial for the past four years, has known Anderson for more than 20 years.
“I call him the father of Memorial School,” she said. “He just welcomes everybody into his heart like family.”
Anderson started teaching in 1974 and first became a principal 15 years later. In 1993, he moved from to Memorial. Apart from a three-year hiatus in joining a family venture in the corporate world, Anderson has been a welcoming, caring and smiling presence at Memorial ever since.
"I think it's important that kids know when they come to school that this a safe and stable place where people care about them," Anderson said. "Every day there are big and small opportunities to make that happen."
Throughout his career, Anderson has seen the job of principal become more complex, with an increasing empahsis on standardized tests that has coincided with economic and social changes that have meant fewer students than ever come to school truly ready to learn.
Still, Anderson knows he has connected with many students over the years. He still gets an annual stack of graduation party invitations and several of his past students now have careers of their own in education. He also knows that many students may have completed their educations thanks to work he did when they were still first or second graders.
Even as he advocated for students over his career, Anderson was also quick to share his time and even his own youthful passions with students.
Every year on the opening day of Red Sox season, according to Firth, Anderson could be found giving a new baseball card to every second grader and taking the time to teach them how to "flip" the cards. "The kids love the game, but they also love that he comes around and teaches it to them," she said.
On the wall of Anderson's office, alongside handmade retirement cards, and neatly arranged schedules and policies, is a handwritten note from his granddaughter Madison - whose last day as a student at Memorial is also Anderson's last day on the job.
Having her there as a student has been one of the highlights of his career, he said.
"Some people think I retired back in 2001, but this time it's the real thing," Anderson said. "There will be some golf and travel thrown in," said the lifelong Milford resident. "But the next part is all about spending more time with family."
As he looks back, he knows that much of the work he did wasn't captured in test scores but could only come from students knowing that he cared, and from his tireless attention to detail.
One day during his final full week on the job, Anderson was heading out the door of his office on the way to rehearse for a play, one he’s performed in several times in the past, and one in which he speaks exactly one word. Perhaps, it was suggested, rehearsal wasn't necessary.
“I guess it’s just my personality," he said, flashing the same smile that has greeted students as they got on and off the bus, for so many years. "Especially when it comes to something that involves the kids, I want to make sure all the details are right."