MALDEN - To Malden High School junior Kassandra Toppi, study hall will never be the same.
Toppi was one of scores who gathered in the hall Sunday to mourn the loss of Paul Famiglietti, a charismatic, beloved figure in the school, whose steady guidance and ready smile buoyed an entire community.
The school principal and more than a half-dozen teachers were on hand to talk to students and help them work through their grief.
Famiglietti was killed on Route 2 in Westminster Saturday when his motorcycle veered off the road.
While police have not determined the cause of the accident, family believe Famiglietti may have suffered a cardiac problem.
“School couldn’t happen without Mr. Fam,’’ said Toppi, 17, shutting her eyes. “He was a friend to me. He held the school together.’’
Although Famiglietti, 54, was not a teacher, every school day he oversaw a dedicated study hall and, on his own time, took photographs for school groups and teams, pitching in to help students whatever way he could.
His study hall was covered from floor to ceiling in hundreds of photos he had taken over the years at games, performances, and in the classroom.
The hall was known as a “safe place’’ for students, said his wife, Susan Famiglietti, a teacher at the city’s Forestdale School.
The extent of his role would become apparent at the end of each school year, when graduating seniors would try to express what he meant to them.
But Famiglietti would turn the tables on them, his wife said.
“So many kids would come up to him tearful, thanking him for all he did for them in their lives,’’ Susan Famiglietti said at her Malden home.
“He didn’t understand it, because he’d say, ‘These kids make such a difference in my life.’ ’’
Famiglietti, who grew up in Medford, did not always work in education. For 22 years, he drove a tractor trailer for North American Van Lines, ticking off miles in 46 states before he retired from professional driving after developing arthritis.
It ‘was really important . . . for him to be able to say “yes’’ to the kids.’Jim Valente, longtime friend
Famiglietti was both an authority figure and confidant to the many thousands of Malden students he encountered during his nine years in the district, said students, friends, and family.
Students said they felt comfortable talking with him.
“For me, he was that unsung hero,’’ said longtime friend Jim Valente, who teaches media studies, and shared interests in photography and motorcycles with Famiglietti. It “was really important to him, for him to be able to say ‘yes’ to the kids. He’d say, ‘whatever you need.’ ’’
The death is the fourth at the school of a student or staffer in as many years, he said.
“We’ve been hit hard,’’ said Valente, 41, blotting away tears. “When are we going to get a break?’’Matt Byrne can be reached at email@example.com.