In a room filled with teenagers, Ron Baglio could look around and sense which students needed his guidance.
As assistant headmaster for student life at Eagle Hill School in Hardwick, “he could sit in a dining hall of 200 kids and pick out the ones who were having difficulties,” said his wife, Erin Wynne, who is the school’s director of development. “He had a keen eye for picking out the kids who were having a bad day.”
During 18 years at Eagle Hill, Mr. Baglio could just as easily use his sweeping gaze to amuse a colleague several tables away.
“He could look across the dining room and could get you to snicker,” said Michael Riendeau, assistant headmaster for academics, “and soon he’d be laughing so much that he’d be choking on his food.”
Mr. Baglio, who was Eagle Hill’s chief disciplinarian, and also the person many students turned to for advice on all manner of topics, died Oct. 4 in North Brookfield after dropping off his two youngest children at preschool. Mr. Baglio climbed back into his car and died of an apparent heart attack while parked. He was 42 and lived in Hardwick.
‘He was a parental figure, and he was a friend.’
“Being a student at a boarding school, your parents aren’t with you,” said Jeff Mendelsohn of New York City, who graduated from Eagle Hill in 2003 and is president of the Eagle Hill Alumni Association and a trustee. “Ron was someone you felt very close with, even though you were much younger. He was a parental figure, and he was a friend.”
Students, Mendelsohn added, “feared him because he was the disciplinarian, but we also had so much respect and love for him. He treated everybody like an adult, even when we were young kids.”
In a eulogy for Mr. Baglio’s memorial service earlier this month, P.J. McDonald, the school’s headmaster, described his friend and colleague as “our protector,” someone who was “always willing to make the difficult phone call, crawl out of bed for the 3 a.m. fire alarm, or sit and talk for hours with a student or faculty member in need. If something needed to be done, Ron was the first to raise his hand; he always protected our blind side.”
Born in Staten Island, N.Y., Ronald Michael Baglio was the older of two children. His father, Ron, taught grade school history. His mother, the former Ann Navarino, was a preschool teacher. They now live in Lynbrook, N.Y.
Mr. Baglio wanted to major in math at Villanova University in Pennsylvania, but became so involved with programs such as student orientation and directing the local Special Olympics that he was “sort of told, ‘You can be a math major and drop all this, or you can change your major,’ and he found psychology,” said his wife, who met Mr. Baglio when they were Villanova students.
Graduating in 1992 with a bachelor’s degree in psychology, Mr. Baglio worked on Wall Street just long enough to realize it was not for him. He went to Seton Hall University in New Jersey and graduated in 1994 with a master’s in counseling psychology.
His soon-to-be mother-in-law spotted a newspaper advertisement for a job working with students in a dorm at Eagle Hill, a private boarding school for students in grades 8 to 12 with learning disabilities including dyslexia and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. After a year there, he left to manage a group home in Waltham for a year, then returned to Eagle Hill for good.
Although Mr. Baglio was working on a doctorate at University of Massachusetts Amherst, “he absolutely loved what he did at Eagle Hill,” his wife said. “He had found the job of his dreams.”
Part of his responsibilities included placing phone calls that drew gasps from parents when he quietly said their children would have to leave the school for misbehavior. Yet for all his disciplinary duties, there would always be “a gaggle of kids waiting outside his office,” Riendeau said. “If you’re the chief disciplinarian at the school, it’s hard to be the person everyone seeks out for advice as well, but Ron was.”
Mr. Baglio, he added, “could disagree with you and you’d feel, ‘Gee, he might be right.’ ”
A notable exception to people coming around to Mr. Baglio’s way of thinking was his favorite baseball team.
“Ron was not perfect,” McDonald joked in his eulogy. “He was, after all, a Yankees fan. This is the only thing in the world that we seriously disagreed about, and we bantered back and forth with frequency and fervor during our early years at Eagle Hill.”
A few years after beginning work at the school, Mr. Baglio married Wynne. Their daughter Keeley turned 8 yesterday. Another daughter, Rowan, is 6, and their twins, daughter Mairead and son Nolan, are 4.
“On weekends, he was all about the family,” Wynne said. “He was a big reader with the children. And he was a great artist who spent a lot of time with the children doing a lot of drawing and the arts.”
Mr. Baglio read the “Harry Potter” books with his older two daughters, and had been working through the third installment each weekend since school started. “That was one of their questions, ‘Who’s going to read Harry Potter?’ and they haven’t let us pick it up again,” his wife said.
While going through cards and notes that arrived after Mr. Baglio died, she was struck by “how lucky all these teenagers were to have him in their lives. And the saddest thing for me is that our children won’t have him and the benefit of his good sense talking with kids. He knew how to do it so effortlessly. It was just second nature to him.”
In addition to his wife, children, and parents, Mr. Baglio leaves his sister, Lisa of Lynbrook, N.Y.
McDonald spoke in an interview yesterday about how “Ron’s legacy is that he lived by a personal creed or motto of do what is right always.”
“That’s what will stand with the students,” McDonald said. “He never really liked rules and regulations or a code of conduct. He’d rather have the personal responsibility of do what is right always. He literally was the most decent person you’d meet in your life. And that’s what we’ll have to carry on: to live by his personal code.”
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