PEPPERELL — A custodian in an elementary school is an important person on many levels.
He is the “go-to” person, the one who’s always there. He’s a resource for staff members and to children, he registers as something solid and safe to the subconscious as the world of socialization and learning opens up.
At Peter Fitzpatrick School, 38-year retiring veteran custodian Scott Hayden is a lot more than an amorphous form mopping a hallway.
He’s “Scotty,” no last name needed, to generations of students and parents.
“Sometimes parents look askance when their little children call me that. But then, many of the parents called me that when they were in school,” he said. “Kids will tell their parents ‘he’s the janitor at my school.’ I reply no, he (or she) is the student at my school.”
Hayden’s retirement coincides with that of his school which is being closed down next year. It was named for a custodian — Peter Fitzpatrick — who was on the job from 1939 to 1963 when the brick portion of the school was Pepperell High School.
“They don’t build ’em like that anymore,” he said. “I’ve been told Peter Fitzpatrick was involved with basketball, little league, the Finance Committee etc. He was more than just a janitor.”
Hayden’s mother, Betty, a 31-year veteran secretary, had advised her freshly discharged Air Force son of the PFS job opening in August 1971.
“I thought I’d work until I found something better. I thought anyone could be a janitor,” he said. “Boy was I wrong. It’s changed. You’ve got to know a little of everything, electrical, plumbing etc. Before, no one wanted the job. Now there’s 50 or so applying for each opening.”
When the daily shift starts at 6 a.m., there’s no one around, which gives Hayden and his two peers a jump start on the day. By the time 3 p.m. Rolls around he’s been virtually everywhere in the building.
He knows every problematical heater, the “cubby hole” in a boy’s room that leads to the roof, and where the floors need wax and where they don’t.
A Weymouth native and son of a career Army soldier, Hayden is proud of being a military brat. He met his wife, Amelia, when he was stationed in the Phillipines.
“I was only 19 and my dad told me not to get married,” he remembers. “I did it anyway. That was 41 years ago so I guess I did something right.”
The couple lost a daughter, Laura, at age 5, eerily the rough age of many of the children he sees every day. A son, Charlie, 31, is a research engineer.
“I love kids,” he said, and thinking of his late daughter, he added, “You envy them too.”
Hayden worked seven years at Peter Fitzpatrick then 12 at North Middlesex Regional High School. He’s been back at PFS for 19 years. The school’s closing saddens him.
“I think all of us are sad. I feel it will never open again as a school,” he said. “I’ve seen a lot of people come and go. I feel it’s my school.
“There are a lot of very dedicated teachers who care for kids and take pride in their work. They spend a lot of their own money for their classrooms that people don’t know about,” he said.
Ironically, Hayden was one of the first two staff members to meet Superintendent Maureen Marshall when she was still in the Quabbin school district. He had gone there with Buildings and Grounds Superintendent Oscar Hills, “a man who does a lot,” he said.
“Dr. (Pauline) Cormier is a terrific principal and has been so supportive. We talk once a week about what is needed. We see eye to eye. She, the teachers too, we’re all family,” he said.
When he retires this year at 62, an age at which he’ll receive maximum pension, Hayden said he may continue part-time work as a crossing guard if there’s money for it. He surely will continue to enjoy his hobby of attending air shows and he just might start a little business with his other pleasure, detailing cars.
“Over the years there’s been a lot of parents who know who I am. Some walk on by but others stop and say hi.
“I feel connected with the community. It makes me sad that in the years to come no one will know me. But it’s time.”
He may be wrong. There will be generations of adults who, when looking back on their early schooling in the idyllic setting of their elementary school, will remember mustachioed, good-natured “Scotty.”