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Keith Love, ‘heart and soul’ of TechBoston Academy, dies at 53

Keith Love, on the TechBoston athletic field during a football game.
Keith Love, on the TechBoston athletic field during a football game.Robin Citrin/TechBoston Academy

As each morning began at TechBoston Academy in Dorchester, Keith Love’s voice filled the school with what he called the “Love radio show.”

“Show me some love, show me some love,” he’d say, his voice echoing through classrooms on the public address system, though day by day, year by year, it was he who showed the most love — to students he mentored and to students he disciplined, to colleagues and to families.

Mr. Love, who had been co-headmaster of TechBoston since 2013, died in his Grafton home May 26 of cancer. He was 53 and had spent much of his career at the school in various jobs.

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“He was able to be a father figure for some. He was able to be a mentor,” said Shawn Stanislaus, a TechBoston graduate who wrote about Mr. Love’s impact on students in an admissions application for a master’s in education program he’ll soon enter at Boston College.

“Keith wasn’t preparing us for high school,” Stanislaus added. “He was preparing us for life.”

Antwain Sheffield, whom Mr. Love persuaded to attend TechBoston when Sheffield was in middle school, recalled that “he was very present with every student” in all his roles over the years, including at one point as the school’s dean in charge of discipline.

“I can’t imagine my life without a man like Mr. Love, who put so much love and effort and time into every student,” said Sheffield, who returned to work at TechBoston, where he is a guidance counselor.

Nora Vernazza, co-headmaster at TechBoston with Mr. Love since 2013, wrote in a message to the school community that “Keith Love was the heart and soul” of the school.

“Everyone has a story to share of being with Mr. Love or something Mr. Love did to help them — some small gestures and other grand, life-altering moments,” she added.

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Just as memorable were the everyday moments. When TechBoston administrators and teachers held assemblies, everyone knew Mr. Love was a tough act to follow.

“I always had to go first,” Vernazza recalled with a laugh in an interview. “I said, ‘I’m not going to go after him.’ ”

At assemblies, “watching Keith was like watching a piece of art,” she added.

“He would say the right things, he would show support, and he always would be warm and loving,” Vernazza said. “Students would come out of it wanting to do better. He was a master of it. All of us were in awe.”

Boston City Councilor Andrea J. Campbell wrote in a Facebook posting that “Keith Love’s commitment to and compassion for his students, so many of whom the system was failing, inspired me since the day I met him as a young education attorney. This is a devastating loss for BPS and for our community. He will be dearly missed.”

Twice in the weeks before he died, Mr. Love sat outside his Grafton home and watched parades in his honor — one by friends in the community, the other featuring current and former students, all of whom slowly drove past, calling out greetings and wishing him well.

“There were students who had their diplomas in their hands saying, ‘I only have this because of you,’ and thanking him for keeping them in school,” his wife recalled.

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He was all but at a loss for words in a WCVB-TV feature during one parade. “Look at this — unbelievable,” Mr. Love said. “Thank you, Lord.”

On May 26, the day Mr. Love died, Mayor Martin J. Walsh praised him during his COVID-19 news conference at City Hall, hailing Mr. Love as “someone very special, a hero to lots of young kids in the city of Boston.”

During one of the parades in Grafton, Boston Public Schools Superintendent Brenda Cassellius presented Mr. Love with commendations from the mayor and the Boston School Committee recognizing his service.

“Keith Love was someone who lived to empower and inspire young people,” Walsh said, adding that he “is also a good reminder of our strength and courage and the role models in our communities that we can draw on.”

Born in Camden, N.J., on July 29, 1966, Keith Love was a son of Joyce Love and Raymond Davis.

He grew up in Camden and attended Camden Catholic High School, where he participated in basketball and track — only playing football in his senior year, said his wife, Tracy Frederico.

His success on the field led him to spend a post-graduate year in Harlingen Texas, at Marine Military Academy, from which he was recruited to play football for Boston College.

Although his football career ended after his time as a 6-foot-1 player for BC in various positions, Mr. Love remained a fan and followed the Pittsburgh Steelers. “He was a lifelong Steelers fan,” his wife said.

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Off the field, as a school administrator, Mr. Love retained the look of a former player.

“He had a huge presence,” Tracy Frederico said. “He always had a smile on his face. He had this unbelievable personality that made people want to reach out to him.”

They met when both were Boston College students and married in 1997.

“The thing you noticed about Keith was his personality,” she recalled. “He was a warm and loving person. He always had time for a word with anybody.”

Along with a bachelor’s degree from BC, Mr. Love graduated with a master’s in education from the University of Massachusetts Boston and was at work on a doctorate when he died, his wife said.

“Even as he got sick, and there were days when he was struggling with energy,” Vernazza said, “he would still make it a point to come in and be in the building as long as possible, just because he wanted to be there and be part of the daily life of people.”

In addition to his wife, Mr. Love leaves his son, Joshua of New York City; his father, Raymond Davis of Camden, N.J.; a sister and brother, Angela Simmons and Warren Griffin, both of Deptford Township, N.J.; two stepsisters, Jessica Davis of Camden and Shaun Rai Whitney of New York state; and his maternal grandmother, Elizabeth Dickerson of Deptford Township.

A memorial service will be announced.

At TechBoston, where students and alumni are maintaining a memorial with dozens of candles, Mr. Love’s presence often was felt even before he was present in a particular room.

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“We’d laugh and say, ‘Here comes Keith,’ because you always heard him before you saw him,” Vernazza said. “He’d be coming down the hall, engaging with kids, doing his thing.”

In his final weeks, with schools closed because of the pandemic, and Mr. Love at home because of his declining health, the school essentially brought TechBoston to him for one of the parades.

As Mr. Love watched current and former students drive past, she recalled, he called out the nickname he had coined for each one.

“He was the master of nicknames. He remembered every student who drove through,” Vernazza said.

“It was over 200 cars,” she added. “It really was a chance to wave and smile and show him some love, the way he always did to us.”


Bryan Marquard can be reached at bryan.marquard@globe.com.