Beloved former Concord High School principal loses battle with ALS

By PAUL FEELY
New Hampshire Union Leader
August 20. 2018 9:28AM
Mark Hayward/Union Leader File Former Concord High School Principal Gene Connolly died Sunday morning after a lengthy battle with ALS. 

CONCORD — A beloved former principal at Concord High School has died after a lengthy battle with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).

Gene Connolly died early Sunday morning, according to a message released through social media by Concord High School and Concord School District personnel. He was 62.

“With great sadness we announce the passing of Gene Connolly early this morning,” reads a message posted on the Concord School District Facebook page Sunday afternoon. “Gene, our Concord High School principal for 14 years, was beloved by so many. Information about events to honor Gene will be shared once plans are finalized. Our thoughts are with his wife Patty and family.”

The longtime educator was first diagnosed with ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease, in 2014. The rapidly progressive, fatal neurological disease attacks the nerve cells responsible for controlling voluntary muscles. After revealing his diagnosis in 2014, Connolly decided to continue as principal throughout the 2015-16 school year.

The Concord community rallied to his support. In September 2014, the school turned its annual homecoming parade into a walk to support Connolly and ALS research, raising $25,000.

The “Connolly Tough Fund” on crowdrise.com has raised more than $63,000 to help the Connolly family deal with expenses beyond what is covered by insurance. A similar effort launched through GoFundMe in February has raised over $10,000.

Derek Thomson, 23, a graduate of Concord High School, credits Connolly with inspiring him to apply for and eventually complete the highly competitive Emerson College film program. In 2016, Thomson and his brother, Dylan, embarked on a cross-country bike trek to raise money for the longtime educator.

“The world lost a hero and a true inspiration today,” Thomson wrote on Facebook Sunday afternoon. “He has touched more lives than he will ever know. I thank you, Mr. Connolly, from the bottom of my heart for everything. Thank you for teaching me to never give up and to always live for each moment.”

Connolly was the subject of a 2017 documentary documentary titled “Mr. Connolly Has ALS.”

Additional tributes to Connolly were posted on social media throughout the day on Sunday.

“He was an amazing principal and a great person,” wrote Dan Phair of Warren. “If it wasn’t for Mr. Connolly, I would never have graduated.”

“His legacy will live on in the lives of so many students he impacted,” wrote Dee Ann Eckert Donnelly of Pennsylvania. “A true hero.”

“The whole Concord community was enriched by his leadership and will mourn his loss,” wrote Kass Spanos Ardinger of Concord.

“I was a teammate of Gene’s at Springfield College so many years ago,” wrote Dave Noyes of Barre, Vt. “I’m not surprised at the outpouring of love and support this man has received over the past years. His battle and courage had been and will be an inspiration to so many.”

Funeral arrangements had not been made public as of Sunday night.

pfeely@unionleader.com

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