John ‘Jack’ Nolan

Long­time Bal­ti­more teacher, vol­un­teer, ac­tivist with Demo­cratic party, served in the Navy dur­ing World War II

Baltimore Sun - - NATION & WORLD - By Talia Rich­man

John T. “Jack” Nolan, a long­time Bal­ti­more teacher and vol­un­teer who aimed to in­still an ap­pre­ci­a­tion for his­tory and civic re­spon­si­bil­ity in his com­mu­nity, died of con­ges­tive heart fail­ure Nov. 23 at the Pick­ers­gill Re­tire­ment Com­mu­nity in Tow­son. He was 93.

Born in Philadel­phia to a fire­fighter and a home­maker, he was or­phaned by the time he was a teenager. His guardian, a nun, ar­ranged for him and his brother to board at Bal­ti­more’s Mount Saint Joseph High School. He en­listed in the Navy af­ter grad­u­a­tion and served as part of a gun crew in the Pa­cific dur­ing the fi­nal year of World War II.

Mr. Nolan at­tended La Salle Univer­sity un­der the GI bill be­fore re­lo­cat­ing with his wife, Peggy Nolan, and daugh­ters to North­east Bal­ti­more in 1953.

In Bal­ti­more, he be­gan a decades-long ca­reer as a city school­teacher. As his fam­ily grew, he picked up se­cond jobs to sup­ple­ment his teacher’s salary: He drove a taxi and sold life in­sur­ance and World Book en­cy­clo­pe­dias.

“He had a mil­lion jobs,” said his grand­daugh­ter Me­gan Tim­mins of Ca­tonsville. But teach­ing “was the work he de­fined his life by.”

No mat­ter how busy his sched­ule, the fam­ily of six gath­ered for din­ner each night. Mr. Nolan would ask his girls about what they learned in school and share what hap­pened dur­ing his school day, too. He rep­re­sented ed­u­ca­tors’ in­ter­ests as a field di­rec­tor for the Pub­lic School Teacher As­so­ci­a­tion of Bal­ti­more City.

A “FDR-style Demo­crat,” Mr. Nolan also in­fused pol­i­tics into the fam­ily’s nightly din­ner con­ver­sa­tion. He preached the im­por­tance of vot­ing and ex­em­pli­fied his com­mit­ment to civic en­gage­ment by turn­ing his fam­ily’s rowhome into a polling place in the 1960s. His daugh­ter Mar­garet Ann Nolan re­mem­bers lug­ging the liv­ing room fur­ni­ture out of the way to make room for hulk­ing vot­ing ma­chines.

He served on city­wide task forces on com­mu­nity de­vel­op­ment and mass tran­sit, and worked as a cam­paign man­ager in the 1968 con­gres­sional cam­paign. He served two terms on the Demo­cratic State Cen­tral Com­mit­tee and was a del­e­gate to three Demo­cratic state con­ven­tions.

In 1999, af­ter years of sup­port­ing other peo­ple’s cam­paigns, he launched an un­suc­cess­ful bid for Bal­ti­more City Coun­cil. He ran on a plat­form of im­prov­ing city schools, with the 5th- and 6th-grade stu­dents he had taught in mind.

Ms. Tim­mins still has a bumper sticker from her time help­ing out on the cam­paign.

Be­yond his work in the class­room, in pol­i­tics and in la­bor re­la­tions, fam­ily was the cen­ter of Mr. Nolan’s life. Though he was a child when he lost his par­ents — and was pre­ceded in death by his wife, a daugh­ter and a grand­son — his fam­ily mem­bers say he of­ten de­scribed him­self as the luck­i­est man in the world.

“Other peo­ple who had the per­sonal losses he had would never have de­scribed them­selves as lucky,” said Ms. Nolan. “But he al­ways did.”

He was a con­stant pres­ence at school plays and events. He took his grand­chil­dren on trips, load­ing them into his huge mint-green car and tak­ing them to Philadel­phia and Mon­ti­cello and Get­tys­burg. Al­ways an ed­u­ca­tor, he’d as­sign each kid an at­trac­tion to re­search ahead of time.

“He was just so present,” Ms. Tim­mins said. “All of our friends called him ‘grand­fa­ther,’ too.”

On Grand­par­ents Day at school, he would re­vert into teacher mode and cap­ti­vate the class­room with sto­ries of the coun­try’s past.

He missed dol­ing lessons so much in his 70s and 80s that he re­turned to work as a sub­sti­tute teacher at the For­bush School for chil­dren with special needs. He also vol­un­teered in class­rooms at St. Pius X and Res­ur­rec­tion St. Paul and gave his­tory lessons — usu­ally on FDR and the New Deal.

Ev­ery Wed­nes­day for 25 years he vol­un­teered at Catholic Char­i­ties’ Our Daily Bread soup kitchen.

He stayed true to his in­ter­ests even as his health de­te­ri­o­rated. When his heart prob­lems sent him to the emer­gency room, his fam­ily rushed in to find him on a gur­ney read­ing a copy of The Bal­ti­more Sun. He asked his grand­daugh­ter ques­tions about former Bal­ti­more Mayor Cather­ine Pugh’s in­dict­ment while in his hospice bed.

Dur­ing his fi­nal weeks, he worked with Ms. Tim­mins to record some of his life sto­ries. She would pull out her phone and record him as he rem­i­nisced. He spoke re­cently of World War II and his sin­cere hope that civ­i­liza­tion learned its les­son from the last great war and would not be doomed to re­peat his­tory.

He also main­tained his Ir­ish sense of hu­mor, mak­ing a joke with the priest who gave him last rites.

He made a point to tell ev­ery mem­ber of his fam­ily just how proud he was of them, said his grand­son James McGraw.

“All I can think of now is how proud I am of the man he was and what he did for our fam­ily,” he said.

As he and his rel­a­tives pre­pare for their first hol­i­day season without “the ar­chi­tect of our fam­ily,” Mr. McGraw said he finds him­self think­ing of the clas­sic Christ­mas movie “It’s a Won­der­ful Life.”

His grand­fa­ther, he says, “was a quin­tes­sen­tial Ge­orge Bai­ley.”

A Mass of Chris­tian burial was of­fered Nov. 27 at St. Pius X Church, 6428 York Road.

In ad­di­tion to Mar­garet Ann Nolan, Mr. Nolan is sur­vived by two other daugh­ters: Mary Beth Nolan-McGraw of Parkville and Mau­reen T. Kazaras of West­min­ster. His fourth daugh­ter, Kath­leen D. Nolan, died in 2014. He is also sur­vived by eight grand­chil­dren, eight great-grand­chil­dren and many nieces and neph­ews.

John Nolan vol­un­teered ev­ery Wed­nes­day for 25 years at Catholic Char­i­ties’ Our Daily Bread soup kitchen.

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