SWAMPSCOTT – Peter B. Sack was described by his family as “a straight shooter,” someone who called it like he saw it, both during his 20 years as principal of Swampscott High and as the longtime voice of Big Blue football.
Sack died on Oct. 10 at age 76 from complications of Parkinson’s disease.
He was known as a dedicated educator who would design the school’s schedule over the summer and knew all his students by name.
At his funeral at Temple Emanu-El in Marblehead on Oct. 15, his son, Jonathan, described his father as a principal with an open door. Sack was early to rise and was the first educator to arrive in the morning at the school, where he would stand outside and greet students and teachers.
He was devoted to his job but not the accolades that came with it. Jonathan said his father once turned down an invitation to a White House reception for the board of the National Association of Secondary School Principals on which he served because he had to attend a senior prom.
“Peter Sack was a legend in the Swampscott Public Schools,” Superintendent Pamela Angelakis said in an email. “I first met him as a young teacher and was intimidated by his intelligence and dry sense of humor.”
“However,” she said, “I later learned he was a warm and caring individual with a great sense of humor. Many of our veteran staff have shared their personal stories of Peter’s influence in their lives.”
“Peter often said that the most important responsibility in his job was the safety of students,” read a Facebook post by the Swampscott Teachers Association, “and that the second most important part of his job was to hire good people and let them do their jobs. Peter greeted students by name, allowing them to feel connected and let them know that he cared about them.”
“He would walk into my classroom to do an evaluation and he knew every kid’s name,” said retired Swampscott High science teacher and curriculum director Bernie Kravitz.
“By far, he was the best principal I ever had,” said Kravitz, who first met Sack when he was a student at the high school. “He was there when you needed him and he truly believed in the school. It was his second home.”
At Sack’s funeral, Rabbi David Meyer recalled the educator’s influence in relation to the rabbinical saying: “Whoever teaches a child, does not teach that child alone, but also that child’s children, and grandchildren, and so on until the end of all generations.”
“His legacy will be remembered and honored by his beloved and extended family,” Meyer said, “by his friends and in our community, likewise by the thousands of students who he taught and who’s learning he oversaw for a generation.”
Sack was born in Lynn, grew up in Swampscott, and lived in Swampscott and Marblehead before retiring to Aiken, S.C.
A member of the Swampscott High Class of 1963, Sack graduated from Bowdoin College in Maine in 1967 with combined honors in French and Spanish literature. He later earned a master’s degree in education from Tufts University. During this time he served in the Army Reserve, stationed at Fort Knox, Ky.
He began his teaching at his high school alma mater in 1969 as a part-time Spanish and French teacher, and he would go on to coordinate an Open Campus Program. In 1971, he was a given a cramped former storage closet in the old high school on
Greenwood Avenue to set up an office for the program, which allowed students to enroll in mini-courses and pursue internships and educational programs outside of school.
“I am forever grateful for his innovation, how he saw education through a more holistic lens,” said David Brooks, a 1977 Swampscott High grad and retired public relations executive, from his New York home.
Because of Sack, Brooks was allowed to spend a semester during his senior year at an Israeli kibbutz. “His work paved the way for my doing a work-study in Israel during my senior year. He understood the power of new thinking in helping young people grow, and he worked diligently to turn his philosophy into action.”
Sack spent nine years as a foreign language teacher, five as an assistant principal, and 23 as a high school principal, first at Swampscott High from 1983 to 2003 and then as interim principal at Manchester Essex Regional from 2003 to 2006.
In 1996, Sack was named Massachusetts Principal of the Year. He served as president of the Massachusetts Secondary School Administrators Association and on the board of the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association.
In light of Sack’s devotion to his work as play-by-play announcer in the press box for Big Blue football for more than 25 years, a moment of silence was held before Swampscott’s home game on Oct. 15, the day of his funeral and burial at Maple Hill Cemetery in Peabody.
Meyer said Sack’s devotion to education was more than matched by his devotion to his family.
His two sons said he loved the Red Sox and would stay to the final out, no matter what the score.
He would smuggle homemade popcorn and snacks into Fenway Park because he liked them just so. He balanced his work life with sailing on his boat 50/50, played catch with his sons in the field behind their home, watched science fiction movies, discussed politics, and kept his car spotless.
And while Sack did not keep kosher, “his devotion to ordering Tony’s pizza every Friday night bordered on the religious.” So, too, was his penchant for Wise potato chips.
While not an observant Jew, Jonathan noted his father had a sense of awe about the world, faith in his family, students, and teachers, and the transformative power of education.
“In the words of Rabbi Heschel, ‘Awe precedes faith,’ it was at the root of faith, and you must be guided by awe to be worthy of faith,” Jonathan said. “Dad was guided by awe.”
Jonathan said that despite his father’s devotion to work, he was not “monomaniacal” about it.
“For as long as I can remember, my dad was always there for me,” said his son David, “we did everything together a typical loving father and son do.”
David said his father’s battle with Parkinson’s created a deeper bond between them, expanding their talks from sports and movies to family, relationships, and feelings.
His father’s stubbornness served him well during the first 10 years of his fight with the disease, David said, but the next two were a series of ups and downs.
“He fought this disease as long as he could and he never gave up,” David said. “He was still wearing button-down collared shirts, topsiders, and eating Wise potato chips right until the end.”
In addition to his sons David and Jonathan and their wives Leslie and Ivy, Sack leaves his two former wives and close friends, Leslie Rooks Sack and Rochelle Friedman; his sister, Marilyn Winick and her husband, Richard Winick; his grandchildren, Samantha, Theodore, Benjamin, Hannah and Lincoln; and many nieces and nephews.
Editor/Publisher Steven A. Rosenberg contributed to this report.