To better understand the experiences of those who attended Lincoln-Sudbury Regional High School through the Metco program, Tom Hooper once lived in the home of one of his students for a week to see what it was like to spend more than an hour on a bus going to and from school.
“We weren’t used to people caring about what we had to say,” said Rena Wright, who went to the high school through the Metropolitan Council for Educational Opportunity program. “Hoop was one of the first people who stopped and listened to us.”
He didn’t just stop to listen, however. If students didn’t get their homework done, he wouldn’t let “excuses fly,” said Wright, who is now 33 and works as a banking center manager. Mr. Hooper, she said, was a major influence in her life.
“He was the kind of person who encouraged you to say what was on your mind without fear of judgment,” she said.
Mr. Hooper, a longtime English teacher at Lincoln-Sudbury who in retirement taught at Quinsigamond and Bunker Hill community colleges, died in his Cambridge home May 25 of complications from melanoma. He was 76.
At Lincoln-Sudbury he helped create the course “The Making and Remaking of Race,” which “was based on us to help educate those who might not know about people of color, and what it means to be a minority,” Wright said.
Bill Schecter, who taught in Lincoln-Sudbury’s history department for many years, said Mr. Hooper challenged colleagues and students alike to think more broadly about subjects.
“The same tactics he used with his students he used with the faculty,” Schecter said.
“I really loved the guy and respected him,” he added, “not just for his intelligence but his individuality and his creativity.”
Schecter said Mr. Hooper believed education was more than just memorizing. “It has something to do with creating,” Schecter said. “I think he came to see that the way we defined intelligence was very narrow.”
Born in Newton, Thomas Bradlee Hooper was the oldest of three sons born to Thomas J. Hooper, who worked in a mill, and the former Wilhelmina Hutchins.
Mr. Hooper spent part of his youth in Westborough, and as a boy performed farm work, waking at 5 a.m. to clean chicken coops.
After his father died, when Mr. Hooper was 14, his mother moved the family to Needham to live with her parents, and she took a job as a secretary.
Graduating from Needham High School, Mr. Hooper went to Harvard College, where he was captain of the varsity football team. He supplemented a scholarship with summer work installing pipes for Needham’s sewer system.
“The chunks of pipes weigh 500 to 600 pounds apiece,” he told the Globe in 1957, “but they have two of us to lay each one.”
In 1958 he graduated magna cum laude from Harvard with a bachelor’s degree in English.
Before starting his career at Lincoln-Sudbury, Mr. Hooper worked as a stockbroker, managed a fishing operation in Honduras, and taught at the private Cranbrook School in Michigan. His wife, Margaret, said that his students there included Mitt Romney.
In 1962, Mr. Hooper received a master’s degree in English from the University of Michigan, and while there he “started learning about the differences in the way kids learn,” his wife said.
Mr. Hooper returned to Massachusetts and began teaching English and writing at Lincoln-Sudbury Regional High.
“I called all the schools in the West Suburban phone book, and the voice on the Lincoln-Sudbury phone said they had a teacher who was sinking under the weight of an impossible class distribution problem and they’d like to talk to me,” he wrote for a collection of faculty and staff recollections included online as part of the school’s 40th anniversary commemoration book.
Mr. Hooper married Margaret Antonelli, who is known as Mimi, in 1973.
He had always loved living in the country, his wife said, and they bought a house in Harvard with 6 acres of land, where they grew vegetables, raised chickens, and kept other livestock.
Among their animals were several cats, a Shetland pony, a pig named Rufus, and “a steer named Blue, who Tom said despised him,” his wife said.
Upon retiring from Lincoln-Sudbury more than a dozen years ago, Mr. Hooper taught at Quinsigamond Community College in Worcester. A few years later, he and his wife moved to Cambridge, and he began teaching at Bunker Hill Community College.
The Hoopers also started visiting other countries. “Traveling was an eye-opener for him,” said his wife, who added that their favorite destination was Cambodia.
She said Mr. Hooper also became a member of the Harvard Institute for Learning in Retirement, through which he took courses in opera, art, and religion, and taught courses in poetry and fiction.
For the anniversary reports of his Harvard class, Mr. Hooper often submitted poems, rather than composing prose descriptions about the events in his life.
He began a poem for his 40th anniversary report with a recollection of Harvard’s Stoughton Hall freshman dorm, and of reading Erskine Caldwell’s novel “God’s Little Acre”:
Younger and younger
We flee backwards in time
To the sunny steps of
Where we read God’s Little
And watched bobby soxed
and penny loafered
In another poem, published in the class report five years later, Mr. Hooper expressed gratitude that the college prepared him for his life’s work:
I thank Harvard for my
Teaching, always teaching
From 1959 until tomorrow
Through darkness and light
A service has been held for Mr. Hooper, who in addition to his wife leaves a son, Thomas J., of Washington, D.C.; a stepdaughter, Alexandra Athos Evans of Harvard; a brother, Harry, of Needham; and three grandchildren.
Physically active throughout his life, Mr. Hooper “was very restless being inside,” his wife said.
He rode his bicycle frequently and on what he considered the last day of each biking season he would ride 100 miles to Rhode Island and back, she said. He spent winters cross-country skiing.
Mr. Hooper was also devoted to fishing, and had traveled to Newfoundland for many years for the salmon fishing on Grey River.
“He started fishing when he was 8 years old, and that, to him, was his connection to nature,” his wife said. “It was his way of finding peace.”