Thomas N. "Stretch" Longstreth, whose career teaching English and coaching at St. Paul's School spanned more than four decades, died Thursday of congestive heart failure at an assisted-living facility in Media, Pa. He was 72.

Mr. Longstreth, the son of an engineer and a homemaker, was born and raised in Gladwyne, Pa.


He was a 1955 graduate of Episcopal Academy in Philadelphia and earned a bachelor's degree in 1959 from Williams College in Williamstown, Mass.

After serving six months in the Army, he earned a master's degree in American literature from the University of Pennsylvania.


Mr. Longstreth, who stood 6 feet 4 inches, played basketball in both high school and college, and later coached the sport at St. Paul's.

In a 1978 article for Sports Illustrated, he recalled playing a 1953 high school game against future basketball great Wilt Chamberlain, who attended nearby Overbrook High School.

He wrote that Chamberlain, "a legitimate seven-footer, gave me an early lesson in reality."

As Mr. Longstreth tore down the court for an easy layup, he was surprised to see the ball land not in the basket but far back on the stage at the end of the gym, where it exploded into a pile of chairs.

"I had been stuffed," he recalled.

"Where Wilt came from and how he got there I still do not understand, but this much I do know: from that moment my innocence was forever, irretrievably lost," he wrote. "Was Wilt's block my first intimation of life's tenuousness and uncertainty?"

Mr. Longstreth began teaching English at St. Paul's in 1962.

"I teach fiction because of its capacity to open up the whole world," he said in a 1991 interview with St. Paul's Magazine. Favorite books that he taught year after year to his students included The Catcher in the Rye, A Separate Peace, All the King's Men, Moby Dick and Huckleberry Finn.


He was never bored teaching the same books year after year.

"I see new aspects of these stories and their characters in every reading, and the students always have fresh insights," Mr. Longstreth said in the profile.

"In literature, especially, there's no right answer, and you can interpret any way you like, as long as you support your argument. That's what I want to convey to students, along with helping them develop good writing technique," he said.

Charles W. Mitchell, an executive with Lippincott Williams & Wilkens and a Lutherville author and historian, was a student of Mr. Longstreth's in the early 1970s.

"They don't come any better than Tom Longstreth. He knew how to draw kids out," Mr. Mitchell said. "He was demanding but never intimidating. He made us feel engaged when it came to literature."

He recalled that Mr. Longstreth didn't use pop quizzes to keep track of his students' progress.


"He gave us a reading assignment, and he expected you to come to class prepared for discussion," he said. "He also made us do a lot of writing. We wrote papers, some 500 words, and others 1,000 words, every other week."

Mr. Mitchell, who attributed his success as a writer to Mr. Longstreth's teaching, described him as a man who "never took himself too seriously" and "didn't have an egotistical bone in his body."

During his 41 years at St. Paul's, Mr. Longstreth had served as assistant headmaster from 1971 to 1980, and had been dean of students. He was head basketball coach from 1965 to 1987, and later was eighth-grade basketball coach.

He also coached baseball, football and lacrosse.

"He was an outstanding man, teacher and coach. He was hardworking, industrious and ethically sound. He loved what he was doing and was a very good influence at St. Paul's," said Mitch Tullai, former longtime St. Paul's athletic director and history teacher.

"Tom was amazing. He never took an education course but knew all the subtle nuances of the classroom. He was a courteous, affable gentleman and a role model for the students, and that was very significant," he said.


As for Mr. Longstreth's coaching style, Mr. Mitchell said he was "demanding yet fair and didn't play favorites. Tom wouldn't tolerate guys who wouldn't pass the ball and were determined to score all the time."

Mr. Longstreth explained his theory of the value of sports in the magazine article.

"Sports teaches a kid that life's unjust, and sometimes arbitrary, and thus provides a series of small losses of innocence. The best team doesn't always win," he said.

Clifford O. Low, a former chemistry teacher and dean of students at the Brooklandville school, had been a former student of Mr. Longstreth's.

"When I came back to St. Paul's to teach, he became my mentor," Mr. Low said. "He was a very level-headed person who was fond of saying, 'It's not the rule that matters, it's what is right that matters.' "

Mr. Longstreth, who retired in 2003, lived on Rider Avenue until moving to Mays Chapel in 2004. For the past three years, he and his wife of 45 years, the former Louise Matthews, have lived in Media.


A memorial service will be held at 1 p.m. June 14 in the chapel at St. Paul's School, 11152 Falls Road.

Also surviving are a son, Mark F. Longstreth of Perkiomen, Pa.; a daughter, Susan L. Maroto of Aston, Pa.; a brother, Morris Longstreth of Pottstown, Pa.; and four grandchildren.