Driscoll School’s Namesake
Written by Elizabeth W. Perry
June 29, 1951
The name Michael Driscoll is a proud one, and the Michael Driscoll School bears it proudly because it stands for the kind of citizen that our schools are striving to make. Michael Driscoll was wise and kind, courteous and considerate, just and tolerant, faithful to duty, honest in all things. His long life was devoted to public service. His one goal was to make the town of Brookline a better place in which to live, and he worked with unflagging zeal to achieve his purpose. He gained a wide reputation for his foresight and good judgment in the conduct of town affairs, but it was, above all, the integrity of his character that won such respect and loyalty from his fellow townsmen that they paid him the unusual honor of naming the school for him while he was still living. The life of Michael Driscoll is an inspiring one because it proves that a courageous and unselfish public servant can be happy, successful, loved, and revered during his lifetime, and remembered long after his death.
Michael Driscoll was born in what is now Brookline Village on April 18, 1844. He was the son of James Driscoll, a well-to-do Irish contractor, and one of eight children, seven boys and a girl. In those days Brookline was a country village. Michael swam in Muddy River, coasted on the hills that are now entirely residential, and skated on the frozen harbor which has since been filled in to become Boston's Back Bay. He attended the Pierce Grammar School and the Brookline High School, which he entered when he was only twelve years old. When he graduated four years later, he had already absorbed an amazing amount of knowledge.
Like every true scholar, Michael Driscoll delved eagerly and enthusiastically into practically every filed of culture. He possessed a remarkable memory. At eighty, he could still quote long passages from Cicero and Virgil, and recite numerous poems without moment's hesitation. He was especially fond of excerpts from Shakespeare, but it was Paul Revere's Ride that most delighted the young members of the big family which constantly surrounded him. His grandchildren, nieces, and nephews descended upon him for help with their homework, and he gave them able assistance in Latin, algebra, geometry, and the sciences. He was an exacting tutor, demanding excellence in all things, particularly in English, of which he himself was a master. One requirement in this field was the exact pronunciation of words upon which he was so insistent that he frequently called for the dictionary at the supper table, or sent one of his daughters to the den to consult Webster's unabridged volume. He was an inveterate reader on a wide range of subjects. When cataracts interfered with this activity, his family spent five or six hours each evening aloud to him from the classics, his favorite magazines, current literature, and every word of the Boston Evening Transcript. The diaries which he kept over a long period of years demonstrate the remarkably fine penmanship in which he took justifiable pride. The last entries, made only a few days before his death, are as clear as the earlier ones.
Michael Driscoll considered good handwriting an educational essential, and his children sometimes found it difficult to live up to the high standards he set. For over twenty of the forty-nine years that he served the town as Superintendent of Streets.
One of his daughters was his secretary. She had worked for her father only a few weeks when he warned her that he should be obliged to hire someone else if she did not immediately set about to improve her penmanship. (This he most surely would have done for political favors to family or friends were strictly against his code of ethics.) Miss Driscoll had just graduated from Simmons College, but her diploma did not excuse her from nightly practice of "push-pulls" at the dining room table. It is typical if the Driscoll character that although the hours of drill made her actually sick, she did not give up until she had won the Palmer Method Certificate of Handwriting, then considered a guarantee of proficiency in this art. She not only kept her job, but handled it so efficiently that her ability came to be as respected as her father's.
All six of the Driscoll children attended the Pierce School as their father had and they did not find it easy to follow in the footsteps of so renowned a parent. James, the oldest son, was once sent by his teacher to stay alone in the dressing room as punishment for some misdemeanor. Apparently she forgot him, for a long time passed and James was not summoned to return to the classroom. By fashion, he investigated his surroundings and made the fascinating discovery of a ladder leading to an attic, an attic storing records of previous students. He found those pertaining to his father's work and perused them thoroughly, with mingled feelings of pride and shame, not unmixed with awe. When he finally crawled down the ladder and hurried homeward from the then deserted building, he was firmly resolved to be a better boy and a better student.
Michael Driscoll loved the public schools of Brookline, and was proud of the training he and his children received in them. He believed that the welfare of his town depended to a large degree upon its educational opportunities, and he determined to make the Brookline schools the best in the state. To this end, he spent fifty-two years of active service on the Brookline School Committee. The achievements of those fifty- two years cannot be over estimated, particularly those connected with school buildings. He planned and directed the erection of many new ones, including the Pierce, the Runkle, the Heath, and the Michael Driscoll. His knowledge of the contracting business, and his ambition to provide good housing facilities for every pupil in every part of the town, resulted in a building program,which was outstanding for those days and which drew commendation from far and near.
In 1874 Michael Driscoll was first elected to the School Board, and he faithfully attended its meetings until his death on April 17, 1926. The Brookline school system developed amazingly during that half century, and much of its progress was due to his untiring efforts. Nothing could deter him from his goal of better schools for his town. No problem was too difficult, no task too onerous, no obstacle insurmountable. The members of the Board, the Superintendent of Schools, the teachers, and the townspeople valued his opinion so highly that the~ consulted him on every important question, and considered his judgment practically infallible. Proof of this esteem showed in fact that he was continuously reelected to public office. One year the Brookline voters split over a question of school policy into two bitterly opposed factions, and each party nominated its own candidates. Michael Driscoll's name appeared on both tickets.
When his connection with the schools began in 1874, there were 1,234 pupils enrolled in the charge of thirty-four teachers. In 1911, when the Michael Driscoll School was dedicated, and in his honor, the number of pupils had increased to 4,191, and the number of teachers was one hundred and sixty. This increase indicated more than the normal growth of a school system in any thriving town. It showed clearly that the reputation for fine schools which Brookline had then established was attracting many people to make it their home. Michael Driscoll's efforts had indeed borne fruit.
He must have been gratified by the glowing tributes paid to him at the dedication exercises, but the building itself, constructed under his direction, and bearing his name, was the most fitting of all tributes.
Many honors were accorded to Michael Driscoll during his long life, but he never sought glory for himself or for his family. He loved every moment of his work, and every duty connected with it. Two of his responsibilities brought him particular personal pleasure. One was the yearly awarding of diplomas in the Pierce School and in the High School. Every one of his children, and many of his grandchildren, nephews, and nieces, received their diplomas from his hands. Another duty which he especially enjoyed because it brought him into close contact with the boys and girls themselves, and incidentally with his own children as pupils, was the giving of examinations in arithmetic. The custom of yearly examinations by members of the School Board was then prevalent. Arithmetic was considered by far the most important subject of the curriculum, and Mr. Driscoll's position on the finance committee in charge of payrolls made him the logical member to test the children in this field. His kindly manner and the fairness of the questions he asked put the majority of the pupils he examined at ease, but not so his own progeny. They quaked in their shoes, and breathed audible sighs of relief when the ordeal was finally over.
On the whole, however, all the Driscolls were proud of Michael's position on the School Board, and tried to fulfill their share of its responsibilities. No social event, however important it might seem, was allowed to interfere with "School Committee night." The children regarded the meetings almost as seriously as their father did for he had tried conscientiously to develop in each of them a sense of civic pride, and of the obligation of all citizens to perform civic duties. They felt more than civic pride, however, on the second Monday of each month as they watched their father set forth unfailingly to the Town Hall. They felt filial pride as well for Michael Driscoll was a very fine looking man, and just the sight of him gave people pleasure. He dressed meticulously, and like to quote the line in which Polonius tells Laertes that, "The apparel oft proclaims the man."
No doubt his apparel, and his enjoyment in being well-dressed, did proclaim one characteristic of the man, but good clothes did not proclaim the open mind, the understanding heart, the innate friendliness of Michael Driscoll. They did not proclaim his great joy in the vast amount of work he did for his town; nor the happiness he found in his church, his home, and his community. They did not proclaim the love for all his fellow-men, whatever their race, nationality, or creed, that never permitted an unkind remark to pass his lips, nor the lips of his children. The spirit of Michael Driscoll was proclaimed in his clear, intelligent blue eyes, with their humorous twinkle, and keen, fair-seeing quality; in his firm jaw; his genial smile; his erect carriage; and the wholly delightful personality which endeared him to the entire town.On his eightieth birthday, and the completion of fifty years of devoted service to the schools of Brookline, his colleagues on the School Board presented him with eighty roses, and a letter expressing their appreciation of the great benefits his achievements had brought to the town. The gifts were accompanied by a testimonial, signed by all the members of the· Committee. On it these words were engraved,
"His life was gentle, and the elements so mixed in him that Nature might stand up And say to all the world, 'This was a man.'
On November 21, 1930, at a meeting of the Parent-Teacher Association of the Michael Driscoll School, the much admired portrait of the man who did so much for Brookline was unveiled. The picture was painted by Margaret Fitzhugh Browne, and was a gift from all of Michael Driscoll's children. Through the years since then, hundreds of boys and girls hand parents and teachers have looked at the benign countenance, and felt the kindly spirit of Michael Driscoll. They have come and gone through the doors of the building that bears his name.The Michael Driscoll School can have no loftier ideal than to be worthy of that name.