By Kate Anslinger
The science wing at the new middle/high school will be rightfully named in honor of Richard “Doc” Tacelli. Tacelli who dedicated several years of his life as a high school biology teacher, educating Winthrop students on the importance of being environmentally friendly long before it was trendy.
He used creativity in the classroom to inspire curiosity in the students and left an imprint on nearly every person who had the good fortune of being acquainted with him. Students he had all those years ago, still share their memories with the Tacelli family today, often times including the drastic impact that he has made on their lives and it certainly can’t be denied that he has made an imprint on this town. He was a leader in the community and served on several town affiliations including: Board of Health, Chamber of Commerce, School Committee, Water Department, Teachers associations, Rotary, Kiwanis and Knights of Columbus.
Those who had the pleasure of knowing Doc can attest to his matter-of-fact sense of humor, his quiet nature and his ability to listen actively and speak without judgment. He used a hands-on approach in teaching and found much success in immersing his students into the world of science. His classroom was literally filled with life, much like his personality.
In fact, back in the seventies, he had a monkey named “Rastas,” who lived in the back of the classroom. When Doc would blow a whistle, Rastas would obey the command and come flying to the front of the room, as students sat at desks below and looked on in awe. Rastas screeched in delight as Doc rewarded him with a grape and then returned to his sanctuary at the back of the room.
Doc and his wife Patricia had five children who also became students of his, passing along his knowledge and passion for animals, plants and nature while maintaining a quiet and impartial demeanor. The family remembers him as being “fair” and when asked if he had a “favorite,” the answer is simple…each of the five children thought they were his favorite.
“Some of my greatest memories are of us watching wildlife documentaries and learning about the earth, animals, climate, planets and the universe,” said his daughter Georgeane Tacelli Coleman. “He was always finding ways to preserve the environment and frowned greatly if he walked into the kitchen and the faucet was running while our backs were turned. We were raised to value water.”
He brought these same lessons into the classroom and taught his students the importance of living a life that respects the precious resources. One day a student called the house to report that he was bleeding. When Mrs. Tacelli encouraged the student seek medical help, the student responded with “Oh, no…I just wanted Mr. Tacelli to give me tips on how to save the blood.”
As with this student, Doc, made people feel at ease. Men and women both young and old felt comfortable in his presence and his inherent genial personality made him a noteworthy teacher and friend.
Eventually Doc left teaching to pursue his dream of opening an optometry practice in town. His impeccable work ethic and easygoing personality led him to quickly become the doctor of choice for both adults and children. He saved a lot of lives due to his detailed exams and detection techniques and often gave out free glasses to those who were in need.
“My husband was all about people, not money,” said his wife Patricia Tacelli.
When asked how Doc would feel about the honorary naming of the science wing, his son, Patrick Tacelli said “He’d be very proud, but not so much of his accomplishments but more of us following through and making sure it happened. He never wanted the limelight. He was named man of the year once and declined, said there were others who were more deserving.”
While Doc died on August 23, 2014, his legacy will live on forever. Students, who were molded by him back in the 1960s and 1970s, came to his service, decades later to show their respect and share their own memories with the family.
In Doc’s final weeks, in the presence of his family, he stated, “We did a lot of good in this town. Patricia and I, we helped a lot of people.”
And that is what he is most proud of.
Not long after his passing, “Doc’s” family created the Dr. Richard S. Tacelli charitable fund, which dedicates proceeds to helping protect, preserve and support animals, plants, science and the environment.