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Allan MacDougall; teacher led shows at Newton North

Allan MacDougall, 69, was the charismatic leader of Newton North High School’s rock ’n’ roll revue, which began in the 1970s and became an annual event.

Allan MacDougall, 69, was the charismatic leader of Newton North High School’s rock ’n’ roll revue, which began in the 1970s and became an annual event.

In his Rocco stage persona, Allan MacDougall was the charismatic leader of Newton North High School’s rock ’n’ roll revue, which began in the 1970s and became an annual event, selling out shows for years.

The adoration of the audiences matched the devotion of those who took the classes Mr. MacDougall taught for more than three decades. Popular culture and American history were intensely personal subjects in the hands of a man Newton North students addressed simply as MacDougall.

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“There were two things that were so amazing about MacDougall,” said Jeff Arcuri of Newton, who had him as a teacher and worked on the Rocco shows. “From 1950 onward, he had a personal story about everything we learned: You were actually getting history firsthand. And he had a way of taking an interest in each student as an individual. He might talk football with one person and cooking with the next. He tailored everything to the individual.”

Mr. MacDougall, 69, whose expansive beard and flowing hair in a ponytail made him as unforgettable physically as he was imposing intellectually, died of a heart attack Oct. 23 in Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. He lived in Brookline.

“My sense of him was that he was like the pied piper and the kids would just follow him everywhere,” said his wife, Jo Ellen Hillyer, a retired Newton North math teacher. “He was so inclusive.”

Through classes and particularly Rocco’s Rock ’n’ Roll Revue, which later became the Ric and Rocco Show, Mr. MacDougall helped students find places to learn and to shine.

“He was able to recognize their talents,” said Jennifer Huntington, a retired Newton North principal. “If they didn’t realize their talents themselves, Rocco made them feel special. Students from all across the school felt they had a place in his show.”

On stage, deaf students signed hits from the 1950s. One year, a girl who used a wheelchair was among the dancers. Another time, the drummer was blind. Mr. MacDougall was just as welcoming as a teacher.

“I think some kids are more likely to talk to me about things they might not talk to someone else about,” he told the Globe in 1999. “And if you are open and willing to listen and be taught by them, that also creates a very positive bond.”

Newton North honored his classroom prowess with the Meserve and Elicker awards, both for excellence in teaching.

“He made history real because he wasn’t so distant that he couldn’t say he was involved in it, which is pretty cool,” said Helen Smith, who taught English and journalism. “I was proud to be on the same faculty. He was so scholarly and such an expert in so many things.”

Allan Duncan MacDougall was born and grew up in Worcester. Rocco was the name he was given at his Roman Catholic church confirmation.

His mother was a waitress, his father tended bar, and Mr. MacDougall spent much of childhood living among extended family. At his 50th high school reunion last year, former classmates recalled that he used to read a book a day.

He got into Harvard University, but left after a week because he couldn’t find a niche for a working-class kid from Worcester. Mr. MacDougall spent months on the road with a band, then returned to Harvard and graduated in 1965 with a bachelor’s degree in history.

With his first wife, Isabella Hinds, he taught Native Americans in Wisconsin. The couple had a daughter. Their marriage later ended in divorce.

Mr. MacDougall received a master’s in teaching from Harvard in 1967, a master’s in American civilization from Brandeis in 1969, and after he persuaded the draft board that he wasn’t military material, Newton North hired him to teach at the beginning of the 1970s. He retired in 2004.

“We had the only mom-and-pop homeroom in the school,” his wife recalled.

“We got married in 1976 and our homeroom made us a wedding cake,” she said. “On the top of the cake, the bride had long brown hair and the groom had braids. He liked to boast that the last time he got a haircut was for his first marriage in 1966. He looked somewhat like Jerry Garcia, to get some sense of the size and the majesty of the man.”

Storytelling was Mr. MacDougall’s principal teaching tool, whether explaining history to students or showing his two daughters how to cook.

“He was a teacher all the time,” said his daughter Kate Berrigan MacDougall of Salem. “His goddaughter said to me after he died, ‘I just wish I had written everything down.’ ”

“He taught me to cook, but he wouldn’t give me a recipe,” Kate said. “Everything was a handful of this or a pinch of that. He read a lot of books, and had a lot of books, but didn’t do anything out of a book, really.”

In addition to his wife, Jo Ellen, and his daughter Kate, Mr. MacDougall leaves another daughter, Cynthia Felice Crisafulli of Arlington, Va.; and a brother, John of Seattle.

A funeral service has been held, and family and friends will gather for a party to celebrate his life at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 15 in the American Legion Post 440 in Newton.

His soundtrack might begin with the distorted guitars and nervy drumming of Link Wray’s 1958 hit “Rumble,” which heralded Mr. MacDougall’s entrance into the Rocco shows.

Over the years, the extravaganzas raised $100,000 for scholarships and charities, but mostly, Mr. MacDougall raised the spirits of students and parents who danced in the aisles.

“The shows were amazing,” Arcuri said. “It was never, ‘Are you going?’ It was, ‘Which nights are you going?’ ”

Bryan Marquard can be reached at bmarquard@globe.com.

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