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    Thursday, August 11, 2022

    Former Waterford superintendent David Cattanach dies

    An undated photo of former Waterford Superintendent of Schools David Cattanach. Courtesy of Suzanne Cattanach.

    Waterford — Suzanne Cattanach said her father probably read a book every day and when he could drive, he would go to the library to pick up six books only to return a few days later for another six.

    "He was a voracious reader," she said.

    Known for his intellect and humor, David Cattanach, 90, the town's former superintenendent of schools, died suddenly at his home here on Thursday. Cattanach spent most of his life as a teacher, prinicipal and superintendent of schools, notably serving 10 years as the superintendent here. 

    "My dad could be very intimidating, but he was compassionate and very sentimental, and liberal in his views," said his daughter. "He was the most loyal person I have ever known, and he valued loyalty as an attribute in others as well."

    Cattanach was born in Houston, Texas, and served as a Navy officer before he began teaching in 1957. He moved to Connecticut in 1960 for a teaching job in Chester, working his way up to being an elementary school principal in Bozrah. After earning his PhD at the University of Connecticut in 1967 and then his superintendent's certification, Cattanach became a superintendent in New York and the Regional District #8 in Connecticut before landing in Waterford.

    He also taught at multiple colleges such as the University of Connecticut, Connecticut College and Sacred Heart University.

    Hired by Cattanach in 1986 as the assistant principal of Waterford High School, Mike Graner got to know Cattanach well, admiring him for his "great intellect."

    Graner said Cattanach helped develop Sacred Heart University's Teacher Preparation Program when he taught there and even wrote a textbook on school administration in 1996 titled "The School Leader in Action: Discovering the Golden Mean."

    "Cattanach was a huge force in southeastern Connecticut," Graner said, adding Cattanach was also served as the president of the Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents.

    "He had an irrepressible sense of humor, and he found it everywhere he looked," Graner said. "By far, the most influential professional in my life."

    "Dr. Cattanach was always present at the schools," said unaffiliated Selectwoman Jody Nazarchyk, whose children were in school when he was superintendent. "He was a trailblazer in education in Waterford. He's going to be missed."

    A few years after retiring, Cattanach went into public service and served on the Representative Town Meeting for several years.

    Tony Sheridan, president and CEO of the Southeastern Connecticut Chamber of Commerce, said he had nudged Cattanach to serve on the RTM when he was first selectman in the 1990s. It was a time the town was concerned about Millstone and town spending.

    "David was one of those people we were very fortunate to have and make important decisions for the town," said Sheridan. "He did his homework, was smart and had a true community spirit."

    During his tenure, Sheridan said the RTM on which Cattanach served changed the charter three different times to make it more efficient and streamlined.

    Sheridan said they remained good friends after serving together. As Sheridan talked about Cattanach, he said he kept thinking about how he should go see him but realized he will no longer be able to.

    Betsy Ritter, a 2014 Democratic candidate for state senator from the 20th District, worked in town government when Cattanach was on the RTM.

    "He had the most wonderful sense of humor, serving to diffuse situations," Ritter said. "He was a smart man who was committed to the community and his family — I will miss him."

    Ritter said Cattanach never hesitated to give his opinion, whether she agreed with it or not, and someone she felt she could turn to for advice even if it was not the answer she was looking for.

    Suzanne Cattanach said her father also enjoyed blogging and would stay up late on his computer. She said she was looking forward to reading ones she missed and rereading other blog posts again.

    Two months before his death, Cattanach started a series of blog posts on The Smirking Chimp, a news and commentary platform, entitled "How Great I Thought I was But Probably Wasn't," reflecting about his time in education and the complexities that come with being a superintendent. In his introductory post, he wrote the following:

    "My lives and interaction with Board of Education members as principal, superintendent and in consultancies have been challenging, professionally and personally rewarding; a means for a remunerative livelihood... and many friendships that have endured for decades."

    j.vazquez@theday.com

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