From providing tips on the golf course to helping a friend learn how to use an iPad, Paul Callanan was always looking for a reason to teach.
A lifelong educator, he spent about 40 years as a teacher and administrator at Canton High School.
“He wanted to teach people not just how to make a cabinet or draft, but how to have a happy life,” said his daughter Frances of Falls Church, Va.
Mr. Callanan, who formerly served as vice principal of Canton High School, died of bladder cancer Jan. 16 in his home. He was 84 and had lived in Canton for almost 60 years.
He began his career at Canton High in 1953 and for the first 20 years taught industrial arts before becoming head of the department. He also taught geometry and algebra.
“He was dealing with a lot of the kids where maybe schoolwork wasn’t the high priority in the family,” his daughter said. “A lot of these kids were smart and just needed some attention, some coaching. He would talk to them about life and give them advice.”
When Mr. Callanan moved from the teaching ranks into administration, he thought one of the challenges of being a vice principal was that he didn’t get to interact regularly with students who did not face disciplinary action. To make up for that, he often walked the hallways to greet students he wouldn’t otherwise see in the course of his day.
Paul E. Callanan was born and grew up in Brighton. He graduated from Boston Technical High School in 1946 and joined the Navy later that year. For two years, he was a deep-sea diver, serving on a minesweeper stationed in the waters along the Atlantic Seaboard.
When he returned home from duty, Mr. Callanan accompanied a friend who wanted to enroll in classes at Boston Teachers College. A recruiter persuaded Mr. Callanan to register, too, and he later recalled that it was the first time he had thought about pursuing an education beyond high school.
Using the GI Bill, he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in education from Boston Teachers College, which is now the University of Massachusetts Boston.
After graduating, Mr. Callanan taught at Berwick Academy in Maine for a year. While living in the area, he often traveled from South Berwick to Boston to visit Virginia Corcoran. They had met during their high school years when both worked at the Harvard Club of Boston. They married in 1952.
Before settling in Canton in the mid-1950s, the couple lived in Medway and Brighton.
During his years at Canton High School, Mr. Callanan helped launch or supervise student golf, hockey, and track. He also chaperoned Student Council activities, skiing trips, and dances, and started the chess club and men’s chorus. For more than 25 years he organized an annual blood drive.
While working full time, Mr. Callanan graduated with master’s degrees from Northeastern University and what is now Bridgewater State University.
“He was a very competitive guy. That is what inspired him to get degrees,” said his son, Chad of Bartlett, N.H. “He was seeing other people get a master’s, so competitively he wanted to be as well-educated as they were.”
Mr. Callanan could turn any possible event into a competition, including how quickly his children put on their sneakers or raked the lawn.
He also offered assistance, sometimes in unexpected circumstances. Once while meeting at a friend’s house before going out for dinner, Mr. Callanan noticed the ceiling wasn’t completely painted. In a white shirt and tie, he proceeded to paint.
“He wouldn’t do it at home, but if he had an audience, he would do that all day long,” his son said.
If he had a few extra minutes, Mr. Callanan played card games such as liar’s poker, bridge, or hearts, and he taught his grandchildren to play poker.
For 13 years, he served as a trustee of the Canton Public Library, and every year he dressed up as Santa Claus at the library and the local Knights of Columbus.
Because Mr. Callanan appreciated receiving GI Bill assistance for his education, he became a lifelong supporter of public education and publicly funded services such as parks, libraries, and museums.
Mr. Callanan, his daughter said, believed that “you really owe a hand to the next person to help someone else get up on their feet.”
A service has been held for Mr. Callanan, who in addition to his wife, son, and daughter leaves three other daughters, Jane, Paula, and Andrea Giroux, all of Wellesley; a sister, Jane Chambers of Yarmouth; and 10 grandchildren.
After retiring in 1992, Mr. Callanan helped found the Edgewise Club, a men’s discussion group that met weekly to discuss anything other than sports and personal illnesses.
As long as snow was cleared from the courses, he golfed regularly at the Wampatuck Country Club in Canton or the Milton Hoosic Club.
“If he could be anywhere, he was everywhere,” said Chuck Tardanico, a friend and former colleague. “He was a guy who was full of life.”