Al Shaler Remembered


Longtime faculty member and iconic personality Alan Shaler passed away on April 4, 2019, having taught and coached at the school for more than 40 years (1959-1999). He will forever be linked to our cross-country program, after founding the boys’ team in 1963. Our annual invitational cross-country meet, one of the largest in New England, bears his name—the Shaler Invitational—in recognition of the indelible mark he left on the school’s program. Mr. Shaler was also an extraordinary English teacher, a highly skilled organist, and an accomplished gourmet cook who shared his skills with students during Winter Session. He was known for his classroom catchphrases—harrumph, harrumph, harrumph was a favorite—but also for introducing innovative courses on the works of J.D. Salinger and African-American literature. He is also the parent of three Williston alumni, George ’80, Jim ’81, and Elizabeth ’84, who were raised on campus. Since his passing, many alumni have written in with memories of Mr. Shaler’s impact on their lives. We think there can be no finer tribute than to run a sampling of your remembrances of him.

Mr. Shaler was my teacher, my coach, and my advisor. I can’t even begin to put into words the impact he had on my life. Throughout high school he was both my greatest critic and my greatest cheerleader. He pushed me to be the best version of myself in class, on the cross-country course, and in life. I became an English teacher and a school administrator due to his profound influence. His biting wit and high expectations were matched by the strength of his embrace and his tears at graduation. I will forever hear his gravelly voice in my head and be grateful that I enjoyed the privilege of his guidance.—Tim Murphy ’96

Mr. Shaler was loved by everyone. I can still see him driving his red and white Ford Bronco and waiting for his cross-country runners to catch up. He had a great sense of humor. He would jokingly show us how he graded papers, which supposedly involved his throwing a dart at a dart board. Also he would award a student “Tool of the Year” award—all in good natured fun. RIP, Mr. Shaler!—Ryan Gibson ’94

I came to Williston from Catholic school and couldn’t believe my good luck to land in Mr. Shaler’s class. I’d never had a teacher who was funny before. It’s no coincidence that I earned my first ever A (not in gym) in his class.—Caroline Sheffield Hanlon ’93

I consider it a badge of honor to have been called a “tool” by Mr. Shaler.
—Milo Perichitch ’78

I not only had him in English, but also as my hurdle coach. He made me fond of using words I knew even if no one else did, like when he’d tell me to stop chewing my gum so truculently.—Jennifer Sheppard ’97

Mr. Shaler changed my life, one chapter of Beowulf at a time. I, like many others, was honored to be called a “tool,” but he also suggested if I had a battery in my back pack, I would rise to “power tool.” Putting a battery back there right now in his honor.—Tom Duffus ’78

I will never forget Mr. Shaler’s  English classes, the book Word Wealth, and the way he would charge into the room, telling us: “Hum into quiz formation!” —Meghan McInerney ’89

What a loss! Count me among the many, many kids who learned to leaven hard work with humor on the cross-country team, and among the fathers who wish for their sons that they’re lucky enough to have a teacher or a coach like Al Shaler.—Dan Horrigan ’83

Al saw something in me that I did not see in myself and drove me to be a better runner and, as a result, a better student and person. He epitomized the hard work ethic that is necessary to be successful at whatever you choose to pursue. I am sure he would laugh if I told him I just finished up a 55+ mile week as I prep for some upcoming races. I might have gotten a “Hmmm…good work, young Marchand.”—Michael Marchand ’84

There aren’t enough words to describe my heartfelt gratitude for Mr. Shaler. As a freshman at Williston, I was petrified. I had never left home and didn’t know what to expect. Mr. Shaler took me under his wing. He mentored and coached me and made me laugh. He was a fair man. He didn’t ask anything of you that he would not have done himself. He pushed you until you recognized your own potential.
—Migdalia Gonzalez Murati ’85

Letting Mr. Shaler talk me into cross-country and hurdles was the best decision of my Williston career. Between teaching and coaching he was directly responsible for my passable SAT scores in high school and my current low blood pressure. He will be missed!—Jon Venne ’01

I am so sorry to hear of Alan Shaler’s passing. I took his course in English honors in my junior year at Williston, and he was a great inspiration to me. His enthusiasm for literature and poetry were absolutely contagious and made everything so much fun. What an incredible teacher he was!
—Nicholas F. Papanicolaou ’67

When my brother, Dan, and I left Holyoke for Williston in the mid-60s our vocabularies and appreciation for reading were extremely limited. Mr. Shaler introduced us to words we never heard before like sagacious, alacrity and erudite. He introduced me to the word illiterate as he posted that comment along with the big red “59” he wrote on my first book report. Mr. Shaler was a favorite of both my brother, Dan, who he coached on the track team, and our mom, who loved his wit and musical talent. He will always be remembered as one of the great characters of my Williston experience and will surely be missed. —James Cain ’68

I got to know Mr. Shaler when he was one of my dorm parents at Gilbert. His humor and his pipe were always present when he came to watch us. As a senior, when I left the mail boxes at the Schoolhouse with my acceptance letter to Amherst College, he happened to be the first person I saw, and when I told him the news, he gave me the fiercest bear hug I have ever received. It is one of my clearest and most poignant memories of my time at Williston.—Keith Solomon ’87

Dink. What a great teacher, coach, mentor, and all around Renaissance man! He blended just the right mixture of humor, scorn, and encouragement to get the most out of students. One memory dates from just after the dining hall had been converted from faculty-hosted tables to cafeteria style. To celebrate the international nature of the student body, the administration had hung flags representing all the countries from which we hailed. Clutching our trays, I was following Mr. Shaler out under the flags and said something witty to him about how they had hung the flag of Turkey in honor of our dinner that night. He replied, “Hmmm, they should have hung the flag of Greece!”—Robert Tullis ’73

Coming from big city Detroit to small town Easthampton was a huge undertaking, but my angst was eased by Mr. Shaler. I did
not like English, but he put a new spin on literature for me. We had lively conversations during the classroom discussion, and I found English to not be so bad after all.
—Rasheedah Askew ’96

What a dear, sweet soul. My favorite memory was one night, while sobbing uncontrollably from some teen heartbreak and on my way back to John Wright, I literally ran into him as he was out walking his dog. He consoled me and served me a cup of tea on his front porch. What an unforgettable character—the epitome of all the best Williston values. I’ll plant a lily in his memory!—Cassandra Ellis ’86