Alumni and Faculty Remember the “Epic” Life of Tom McGraw

Pictured above is Tom McGraw in Bulfinch Hall.

Retired English Instructor Tom McGraw passed away on May 1, 2023. Starting his career at Andover in 1983, McGraw taught English for 32 years before retiring in 2015, and served as a house counselor in Hearsey House while also coaching JV football, JV basketball, and varsity baseball during his time at Andover.

Most notable for his handwritten letters, memorization of “The Odyssey”, “natural” humor, and being a “gifted” storyteller, McGraw left an “indelible” legacy behind. His daughter, Molly McGraw ’07 reflected on her father’s character.

“He loved so strongly, his wife and his children, and that was felt forever. Even in the end years, it was palpable how much he still lit up when he saw my mom, for example. My mom was the true love of his life and he was a devoted husband and father without question,” said McGraw. 

Chris Cameron ’11 reflected on the impact McGraw had on his Andover experience. Initially knowing McGraw as an English teacher, he soon became a mentor in all aspects of Cameron’s life. 

“You have those teachers or professors that kind of transcend the role of just being a teacher or professor in a way and connect with their students, both inside and outside of the classroom. And I’d say that Mr. McGraw is definitely one of those for me, and I know he was for a lot of other folks, both academically and on and off the baseball field as well. So that’s the impact he had to me and I know he did for a lot of other students as well.”

In his English classroom, McGraw possessed an intense passion for literature, specifically “The Odyssey”, “Mobey Dick”, and “Herman Melville”, and often recited literature from memory – sometimes even in Greek or Latin. Molly Ozimek-Maier ’07 reflected on the high demand for his class amongst students. 

“But people would be willing to trade dorm room numbers to get into Tom’s class, that’s how intense it was to try to get into [his] class. And everybody knew McGraw, his legacy way preceded him and hopefully post-ceded him as well,” said Ozimek-Maier. 

In his time as a coach, McGraw often played one-on-one with his athletes, helping them to improve their game. According to Christopher Capano ’77, McGraw often shared personal stories on the bus rides to games and the players would intently listen. 

“The minute the bus left the parking lot of Andover, he started telling stories and you didn’t mind how long the bus ride was because he told amazing stories about everything and anything whether it was – he went to Notre Dame where he played college basketball and college baseball, he served in the army for a little while and was stationed overseas in Panama… He just always had a cool story,” said Capano

Ozimek-Maier recounted a common occurrence when McGraw’s passion for sports and literature intersected. In a challenging baseball game in the 2007 season, Andover was losing, but at halftime McGraw called everyone into the dugout and delivered a speech; not in English but in Latin. 

“He called the whole team into the dugout, and everybody was there, and he gave this inspiring speech, but it was in Latin and so there was a kid on the team Joe Smith ’07, he translated the whole thing on the fly because he was taking Latin. And there were also times that he used ancient Greek and the boys would have to translate and it really inspired everybody to just kind of get back out there and we won the game,” said Ozimek-Maier. 

Andrew Bedell ’92 who had McGraw as both an English teacher and JV football coach, shared how McGraw inspired him to pursue a teaching career. 

“He was the first teacher I had that showed me that caring about students as a person more than say, a student in your class or an athlete on your team, was important to him, and he certainly invested the time in me to help me see that and appreciate that about him. And it led me down the path that I chose to take as a teacher. So I look back fondly over the interactions that I had with him as a student in my work as a teacher,” said Bedell. 

In the last few years of his life, McGraw was diagnosed with early onset frontotemporal dementia. His brain has been donated to the Massachusetts General Hospital’s frontotemporal unit for research. McGraw’s daughter shared how his diagnoses impacted his last years. 

“And so to see someone who was previously so verbose and able to recite passages from Shakespeare and Moby Dick and from the Iliad or the Odyssey, freely, to become nonverbal, is really sad. And it’s just I think he would appreciate the tragedy of that… He was a very dramatic human, and I think he’s probably looking down on us from somewhere or looking up, who knows, I don’t know, and laughing about that great irony, but it is a tragic irony too,” said McGraw. 

Matt Hyde ’92 who had McGraw as a coach and house counselor, summed up the palpable effect McGraw had on his students. 

“He had a real magic about him. In making you feel like you were important, that you were significant, and that really you could do anything that you wanted with your life,” said Hyde.