Principal Gaspar Fabbricante, In Memoriam
Gaspar Fabbricante, principal of Stuyvesant High School from 1971-82, passed away on September 1st from natural causes. He was 88 years old.
“He lived a good life,” said Tony Barsamian ’79, who befriended Fabbricante as a student and maintained a relationship with him until his passing. “He was very proud of the accomplishments of the students.”
Fabbricante arrived at Stuyvesant in the late 1960s, Barsamian said, serving as Assistant Principal for Foreign Languages at Stuyvesant before becoming its eighth principal in 1971.
Not very many students got to know Fabbricante well during his years as Stuyvesant’s leader, but Barsamian did, striking up a friendship by commenting on the principal’s ties as Fabbricante stood watch each morning at the top of the second floor steps in the East 15th Street building. Fabbricante ended up tutoring Barsamian in French, and encouraged him to get involved in extracurricular activities like the Spectator, setting the student on his future career path.
“He was very easy to get along with. He was very friendly. He was very interesting to talk to,” said Barsamian, now Publisher/Editor of the Queens Gazette in New York. “He was a real Renaissance man in the sense that he knew little bits and pieces about everything, because of course being the principal at Stuyvesant, he learned a little bit about every department.”
Although Stuyvesant was widely regarded as one of the nation’s top public high school during the Fabbricante years, following the school’s co-education in 1969, the school grappled with some difficult issues during 1970s. Recession and poor finances forced the New York City government to cut funding for public schools. Battles amongst Fabbricante and the students ensued as Stuyvesant was forced to cut offerings including Earth Science courses and student publications.
Even those who battled with him then now widely praise Fabbricante’s leadership.
Jenny Anne Horst-Martz ’76 got to know Fabbricante when she was president of the Student Union and editor of the Stuyvesant Voice, the rambunctious student magazine.
“I led a student strike for three days, during which we negotiated with Fabbricante about what we wanted –better teacher rights and ensuring continuation of Earth Science — and of course sat on the Student-Teacher-Parent council with Fabbricante, where the gains were frustratingly small because of the administration’s intransigence at times,” she recalled.
Now, Horst-Martz says Mr. Fabbricante handled himself with grace.
“We were a fractious bunch, always finding something in our school to protest that paralleled the societal changes in general. Mr. Fabbricante managed to be graceful in his handling of all this,” she says. “Mr. Fabbricante listened and took a fairly liberal position that allowed us to grow and learn. He deserves praise.”
The Stuyvesant Voice was at the center of perhaps the largest scandal of the Fabbricante years. In 1975, the Voice tried to survey Stuyvesant students about sex, but was stopped from doing so by school authorities. Editor-in-chief Jeff Trachtman ’76 and his father sued the Chancellor, the Board of Education and Fabbricante, but ultimately lost the case.
Trachtman, now an attorney in New York, recalled Fabbricante’s good side, despite having locked horns with him four decades ago.
“Time tends to put things in perspective,” Trachtman told the SHSAA. “While I wish he had been more of an advocate for student freedoms, I recall now that he was unfailingly kind and polite, even when enforcing policies we disagreed with, and a good sport in the face of pretty severe teasing — including a SING sketch with a Gaspar robot that repeated ‘I agree with everything the board of education says.’ The one time I saw him after graduation was at the farewell party for the old Stuy building, around 1992, and he was sweet and gracious.”
Barsamian explained that Fabbricante thought at the time that it was his duty to follow the policies set out by the New York City Board of Education. “To the best of my memory, he was understanding of what they [students] were trying to do and accomplish, but he felt it was not within the agenda of what the school authority had implemented in terms of the rules,” he recalled.
Fabbricante was born in January 1927 and raised in New York City. He majored in foreign languages at City College, but had to interrupt his education to serve in the Army. He served one year in Japan with the army of occupation under General MacArthur after WWII.
After the war, Fabbricante finished college and then received a Master’s degree in Spanish from Columbia University, although he also spoke and taught French. He taught in a junior high in Upper Manhattan and then for nine years at Forest Hills High School in Queens before moving to Stuyvesant.
Fabbricante retired from Stuyvesant in 1982, when according to Barsamian, regulations meant he would enjoy a better retirement income by retiring early rather than staying on. Barsamian said Fabbricante wrestled with the decision, because he loved his job, but ultimately decided to step down to spend more time with his wife Olga, a math teacher, and brother, Lorrie, a French teacher—both of whom predeceased him. Gaspar and Olga Fabbricante did not have children.
Gaspar Fabbricante also had talents that we not widely known, said Barsamian. “He was a poet-guitarist-writer. Very often at the retirement parties of the various teachers and assistant principals, he would very often write beautiful, poetic verses. And then he would either bring a guitar or play on the piano. And he would sing to the person,” Barsamian explained.
Barsamian said that Fabbricante rarely missed the chance to attend SING, graduation, or the annual Stuyvesant Parent’s Association Lunar Feast, one of the largest fundraisers for the school, attending well into his 80s. Fabbricante particularly enjoyed meeting current students and alumni.
“He was one of the calmest people I have ever met and one of only three Sicilians (Fabbricante, Pat Fricano and I) at the school at the time, recalled Tony Chiarenza’ 78.
“Gaspar Fabbricante, for all the bad time we gave him, was an utterly decent man,” wrote Nick Griffin, ’80. “In retrospect, I’m not sure he didn’t approve of the implicit rules of engagement. It sure would’ve been fun to hear him telling his wife over dinner, ‘You wouldn’t believe what they did today…’”
Added Thom F. Kelly, ‘79, “It always seemed to me demanded the best of his teachers and of his students.”
Barsamian says the principal always wore his connection with Stuyvesant proudly.
“He did know that the people cared about him, the former Stuyvesant students, and he cared about them,” Barsamian said. “He was a very good principal. He was an excellent leader for the school. And his memory I think will live on in many ways.”