‘She knocked our socks off’: Trumbull to mark memory of popular principal
TRUMBULL —For a decade, Principal Mary Ellen Bolton greeted each new student as they approached Jane Ryan School on their first day. Now, the Town Council is poised to ensure that legacy continues forever. On Monday, the council will vote on a proposal to rename the stretch of road leading up to the school Mary Ellen Way.
“When we started thinking about it, we thought about Bolton Boulevard, or something like that,” said Vin Lipinski, the former long-time president of the school’s Fathers Club. “But Mary Ellen Way just seemed to fit, because when it came to everything, Mary Ellen did it her way, the right way. It was the Mary Ellen way.”
Bolton, who was principal of Jane Ryan from 2011 to 2020, died Sept. 17 at age 59 after a two-year battle with cancer. Her husband, Tim Bolton, said that although her career had spanned four decades, the 10 years she spent at Jane Ryan were the highlight.
“She loved the school, loved the kids and the families, and she loved being their principal,” he said. “She didn’t want to retire, it was like she was being robbed of years she wanted to keep giving to the school. Now, it’s like her heart will always be there. It’s like she could put her arms around the school and give it a hug.”
If Bolton was robbed of years of being part of Jane Ryan School, Lipinski said the staff and students were robbed of a chance to say goodbye. Bolton had told the Board of Education in April that she was retiring. But by then it had been a month since the school buildings had closed and students had begun remote learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“When they went home in March, how can you know that this is the last time you’ll ever see this person in the building?” he said.
In May, the school community held a drive-by retirement party for Bolton, and the line of decorated cars passing through the school parking lot continued for more than an hour, Tim Bolton said.
“It was this endless procession,” he said. “People just wanted to be a part of it.”
Lipinski was among the last to say goodbye to Bolton, having paid a Labor Day weekend visit to her home. He also may have been the first to say hello.
“I was a member of the search committee after Principal (Robert) Gabriel retired,” he said. “My fear was that Bob had been so good, how would we ever replace him?”
For two days, the committee interviewed potential hires. All were good, but none felt right, Lipinski said. Then Bolton walked in. The last candidate to interview, she strode into the room, sat down and introduced herself with a smile as “the next principal of Jane Ryan School,” Lipinski remembered.
“She knocked our socks off,” he said.
The search committee had found its principal, Lipinski said.
“We nailed it,” he said. “If you asked me to name the one thing I ever got right in my life, and I couldn’t say getting married or having kids, it would be being part of hiring Mary Ellen.”
Over the years, the love Bolton had for the school was palpable, he said.
“It exuded through the hallways,” he said. “I don’t know how she did it, between the students and staff, parents, and her own family. There must have been 35 hours in a Mary Ellen day.”
Lipinski is not alone in his sentiments. A memorial Facebook page MEB — Make Every Day Beautiful, has 610 members and countless photos and recollections since it went live three weeks ago.