Eugene E. “Gene” Gilhooly, a veteran Anne Arundel County principal and elementary school educator, died of pneumonia Thursday at MedStar Franklin Square Hospital. The Charlestown retirement community resident was 94.
The fact that Mr. Gilhooly was a blithe spirit, an effective teacher and simply just a lot of fun is still remembered by his students from more than six decades ago.
“One of my favorite stories was that I was a giggler, and he’d take a water pistol and shoot it at my mouth,” said former Arnold Elementary sixth grader Darlene Carter Mears Robbins.
“Another is that he’d come into our classroom, roll up his sleeves, shake his hands, and then sit down at the piano, like Liberace, and play ‘Chopsticks.’ I thought that was hysterical and he was always doing a lot of quirky things like that,” she said, with a laugh.
“But the most important thing is he really affected a lot of lives. He really cared and you could always tell that,” Ms. Robbins said. “They’re not a lot like him.”
Mary McCann, another Arnold Elementary student, said: “He was a hoot. He would always call us ‘Boys and Grils,’ because so many misspelled girls.
Eugene Edward Gilhooly, son of John Gilhooly, a postal worker, and Rose Gilhooly, a homemaker and shoe salesperson, was born and raised in Waterbury, Connecticut, where he graduated from Crosby High School.
Mr. Gilhooly earned a bachelor’s degree in 1952 at what is now known as Concord University in Athens, West Virginia, and a master’s degree in 1957 from the University of Maryland, College Park.
While at Concord, he met and fell in love with the former Inez Blair Johnson.
“They were both in the infirmary sick and he’d go and sit by her bedside and bring her things she needed,” said a daughter, Brenda A. Gilhooly, of Lakeland, Florida.
The couple fell in love and married in 1951.
In 1952, they moved to Anne Arundel County, where they began their careers in education at Linthicum Elementary School.
Mr. Gilhooly later worked at Arnold Elementary as a teacher and principal.
While he had high academic expectations for his students, he also realized that learning didn’t have to be drudgery.
Anne Wright Brown, another former Arnold Elementary student, is a member of a group of students that for the past 15 years met regularly to have lunch with their former teacher.
“When we got together, we’d put up our hands, and say, ‘Mr. Gilhooly’ like we were back in the sixth grade, and he’d say, ‘I’m Gene.’ He was the first teacher that I wasn’t afraid of,” she said. “He was so much fun and kind. I remember when we’d have recess, he’d come out and play catch with me. No other teacher ever did that.”
At one point in his early life, Mr. Gilhooly wanted to pursue a professional baseball career.
“I remember someone saying they recalled him standing in front of the class teaching arithmetic while swinging a bat,” Ms. Brown said.
Mr. Gilhooly didn’t think twice about riding a bicycle through the hallways of his school.
“On rainy days when we couldn’t go out to recess, we’d sit at our desks and he’d read to us, and never was able to eat his lunch,” Ms. Brown said.
He liked challenging his students to footraces at recess.
“We’d run forward and he ran backward and he still beat us,” Ms. McCann said.
In 1962, when Tyler Heights Elementary opened, Mr. Gilhooly was appointed principal.
He ended his career in 1985 when he retired from Davidsonville Elementary School, where he had taught for 12 years.
Mr. Gilhooly also taught classes at Bowie State University, Towson University, University of Halifax and a University of Virginia satellite location in Northern Virginia.
Janet McClelland, a retired Ontario elementary teacher, had been one of Mr. Gilhooly’s students at Arnold Elementary.
“I tried to be exactly like him: gentle, fun-loving and academic. He was so sweet and just loved us,” Ms. McClelland said. “And who remembers the names of all his students from all those years ago, but he did.”
Ms. McClelland had a difficult childhood.
“Mr. Gilhooly made a huge difference in my life. I had a stepfather who was an alcoholic and there was always fighting and shouting going at home, but at school, it was heaven. It was a safe place. He’d say, ‘We’ll work it out.’ Love is always the key,” she said.
Said Ms. Brown: “I had epilepsy, and one day I had a seizure, and he put me in his car and took me home. He was just as kind as he could be and I knew that he was like that in all of his dealings with people.”
Mr. Gilhooly was a partner with his wife in Schoolyard Stables, which began operating at Maryland racetracks in 1982.
“He always had female jockeys on their racehorses,” Ms. McCann said. “He liked that.”
The couple enjoyed playing golf together at the Naval Academy golf, course where they were members.
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The former longtime Admiral Heights resident moved to the Catonsville retirement community in 2004.
He was a devout Roman Catholic, family members said.
Plans for a celebration-of-life gathering are incomplete.
In addition to his daughter, he is survived by another daughter, Nancy A. Purdy of Annapolis; a brother, Ray Gilhooly of Hope, Maine; four grandchildren; and a great-grandson.