Community says goodbye to beloved Pilgrim High School principal

West Bay

WARWICK, R.I. (WPRI) — The Pilgrim High School community gathered Friday evening to pay their final respects to beloved Principal Gerald Habershaw.

Family, friends, parents, students and colleagues waited in a line that wrapped around the Thomas and Walter Quinn Funeral Home to mourn Habershaw, who died suddenly last weekend after contracting COVID-19.

“He was the definition of Pilgrim pride,” senior Maddy Narcavage said. “He was what made Pilgrim, Pilgrim.”

Pilgrim opted for an early release Friday to ensure all students, faculty and staff had the opportunity to say goodbye to Habershaw. He was 57 years old.

“They don’t make them like Gerry anymore,” substitute teacher Alejandro Hinton said. “He was unique, irreplaceable, energetic, empathetic, gentlemanly … all of those adjectives and much, much more.”

Habershaw started his career as a special education teacher at Pilgrim. He later served as an assistant principal at Aldrich Junior High School and principal of Warwick Veterans High School before returning to Pilgrim as principal.

“He was always so uplifting in the hallways,” senior Michaela Boyd said. “Every time you’d see him in the hallways he’d give you a fist bump, or ask ‘how’s your day?'”

Habershaw’s death comes a few weeks after a COVID-19 outbreak was linked to the school’s first homecoming dance since the pandemic began.

While the dance was held outside under a tent, video that surfaced from the event showed students congregating inside the building and an unmasked Habershaw walking amongst the crowd.

It’s unclear whether Habershaw was exposed to the virus at the dance or elsewhere, though school officials told 12 News he tested positive a few days after the event.

Habershaw was fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to school officials, and students were required to produce negative tests in order to attend the dance.

In the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak, which forced the high school to shift to remote learning for more than a week, the district announced Pamela Bernardi would be taking over as acting principal “until further notice.”

While school officials did not elaborate on the decision to replace Habershaw, the Pilgrim community rallied around him in the weeks leading up to his death.

Narcavage said Habershaw was determined to make this year’s homecoming dance memorable, especially after the pandemic forced the school to cancel the event last year.

“He did everything to the best of his ability to make it fun for the students,” Narcavage said. “The dance was amazing … He just loved the students and everything he did.”

Boyd said the outpouring of support from the Pilgrim community following Habershaw’s death is a testament to how special he was.

“Everybody loved him,” she said. “It’s going to be heartbreaking not having him there at our senior prom and graduation, but we’ll get through it. We’ll know he is there with us.”

“Everything we do from here on out, it’s for him. It’s dedicated to him,” Narcavage added.

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