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John A. Bloom, 80; helped rejuvenate Worcester Academy

Mr. Bloom served as headmaster at the academy for more than a decade.

Mr. Bloom served as headmaster at the academy for more than a decade.

In March 1974, after accepting the position of headmaster at financially struggling Worcester Academy, John Bloom was hopeful but realistic during his first faculty meeting.

“I am very optimistic about the years ahead,” he said, according to a transcript of the gathering, and he added that although “there is not going to be any magic wand waved over Worcester Academy that will cause all of the problems to go away,” his immediate goal was instilling “a renewed confidence and a renewed spirit.”

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The fifth headmaster in a six-year span, Mr. Bloom, reenergized the school, welcoming female and international students, making more efficient use of its facilities and budget, emphasizing a postgraduate year, and boosting enrollment.

“John saved Worcester Academy, no doubt about it,” said Ben Williams, who succeeded Mr. Bloom as headmaster in 1985 and has since retired. “There was talk of closing, but no way was that going to happen on his watch. Self-confident and a visionary, he took charge with tremendous energy.”

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Mr. Bloom, who earlier in his life had cleaned dormitory rooms to help pay his tuition at Brown University, died in Lasell House in Newton on Nov. 2 from complications of diabetes and Parkinson’s disease. He was 80.

During his years as a Worcester Academy teacher and administrator, he also chaired the history department and founded the urban affairs program. In addition, he was the varsity soccer and wrestling coach and a dormitory supervisor at the private school, and formerly chaired the Worcester Human Rights Commission.

“John was one of the most tenacious people I’ve met. There was no quit in him,” said David Forsberg, a 1965 graduate who is on the academy’s board of trustees.

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“He was creative, unafraid to rock the boat during tumultuous times, and he would not let the school fail,” said Forsberg, who played on Mr. Bloom’s soccer team and took his American history course.

Mr. Bloom was contemplating leaving the academy’s faculty when the trustees asked him to be headmaster, according to his wife, Nancy. “John’s interview at a private boarding school in Pennsylvania had been set up, but the board’s vote of confidence and his love for Worcester Academy compelled him to stay,” she said.

In 1956, Mr. Bloom married Nancy Espinola, who had been a classmate in Methuen’s public schools. Together, they initiated a tradition at the headmaster’s residence, inviting groups of 10 boarding students for dinners that included prime rib and baked Alaska. “John said it didn’t seem right that they had never set foot in that house,” said his wife, who taught first grade at the Woodland school in Worcester.

Mr. Bloom inherited a student population that had dipped from more than 400 students in 1970 to 261 four years later, but then rose again to its 1970 level during his 11-year tenure. Among his initiatives were letting Worcester Junior College rent the academy’s underused Dexter Hall dormitory and its dining facilities, inviting an area swim club to use its pool, encouraging theater groups and a gymnastics club to utilize campus space, and traveling to Iran with his wife to recruit high school students.

A father figure to many of the Iranian students, he greeted them at the airport, drove them to Worcester Academy, and made sure they were settled in. Many stayed in the United States.

“It was important for John to make Worcester Academy a vibrant, welcoming, and functioning place,” his wife said.

John A. Bloom was the older son of the former Muriel Kingham and Max Bloom, whose popular Lawrence-based auto driving school’s advertising slogan was “Relax With Max.” He hired a tutor for his son, who had not yet learned square roots, to help him to pass the Phillips Andover Academy entrance exam on his second try.

A three-sport athlete at the prep school, Mr. Bloom was mentored by Dick Lux, his math teacher and wrestling coach. Originally a day student, Mr. Bloom was awarded a scholarship for tuition and board. “John’s years at Andover had a great impact on his career path,” said Lux, who remained a lifelong friend.

While a student at Brown University, from which he graduated in 1958, Mr. Bloom was diagnosed with diabetes, which required him to take insulin the rest of his life.

“John was a battler, proud of his long-term survival, and he never complained,” said Joel Strogoff, a friend and former Worcester Academy student who became Mr. Bloom’s assistant headmaster for student affairs. “He carried himself with great dignity and always encouraged others to do the same. He had an ability to laugh at himself and he was the best teacher I ever had.”

Hired at the academy out of college, Mr. Bloom soon caught the eye of its legendary former athletic director, Dee Rowe. “John had the toughest job of any coach on campus because the wrestlers practiced in a small second-floor room in the gym adjacent to the running track,” Rowe recalled. “Their matches were held in Walker Hall, our administration building, and John and his boys lugged the mats — sometimes in freezing weather — over there.”

Rowe added that “he had a strong commitment to see it through, and I had great respect for him.”

Mr. Bloom, who had officiated college and high school wrestling matches while completing a master’s at Assumption College, moved to Boston’s Back Bay after leaving the academy. For 10 years he was property manager at Church Park, a mixed-use development on Massachusetts Avenue, and he briefly was development director at Austin Preparatory School in Reading.

He and his wife participated in 17 Elderhostel trips and traveled worldwide prior to moving to Lasell Village in 2014.

A service has been held for Mr. Bloom, who in addition to his wife leaves his daughters, Nadine Hill of Gainesville, Fla., and Leigh Cowdrick of Lexington; his sons, Derek of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Glenn of Natick, and Grant of Arlington; his brother, Lance of Hampton Beach, N.H.; and 10 grandchildren.

A Red Sox season ticket holder who traveled to Fort Myers, Fla., for spring training, Mr. Bloom kept a meticulous scorecard and always bought his wife ice cream after the sixth inning.

To honor their 55th anniversary, their family bought a brick, which is displayed under Fenway Park’s center-field bleachers. The umbrella he always took to the games, a piece of the Green Monster, and a family-autographed baseball were placed in his casket.

Mr. Bloom donated his organs to the Joslin Diabetes Center.

His son Glenn said that “his greatest accomplishment” was being a best friend and husband to Nancy. “Together, they handled every life challenge presented to them with grace, professionalism, and a deep love of family and friends.”

Marvin Pave can be reached at marvin.pave@rcn.com.
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