Toll Gate complex to be renamed for Shapiro at Friday ceremony


Students, parents and the community will all have a part in a celebration of the life of Robert J. Shapiro Friday evening at the arts and cultural center that bears his name at Toll Gate High School.

Shapiro, whose career with the Warwick School Department spanned 50 years, was the first principal of the school. He later went on to become superintendent, a position he held until his retirement in 2007. He died Sept. 6, 2012 at the age of 81.

Shapiro’s passion for education and his dedication to Warwick are certain to be themes at Friday’s event starting at 6 p.m. But, so too will be some of his trademark quirks that still have people recalling tales from the Shapiro days.

One of those traits – Shapiro’s early morning forays to check on road conditions before making the decision to close schools because of snow – was the topic of conversation last Friday at the school administration building. With laughs, Paula Lavigne and Patti MacDonald recalled Shapiro’s road reports, often starting as early as 3 a.m., to department directors. Shapiro would also contact city crews, police and the mayor.

Just as surely to be mentioned was Shapiro’s consistent presence at schools; from open houses to award ceremonies, athletic and cultural events, graduations and award ceremonies.

A highlight of the evening will be the unveiling of the sign designating the Toll Gate Education Complex as the Shapiro Education Complex.

“We all wanted to do something,” said Rosemary Healey, school counsel and director of human resources.

She said she and other directors talked about renaming the high school but decided against that because it was Shapiro who researched the name, Toll Gate, and was so instrumental in naming the school.

Healey has taken the lead in Friday’s celebration, but students, parents, friends and the Shapiro family are also carrying the ball. The Toll Gate Symphonic Orchestra, under the direction of George Landrie Jr., will perform selections interspersed with remarks from attorney John Lynch, whose children all attended Toll Gate, and Mayor Scott Avedisian, and Julius Breit, who worked with Shapiro at Toll Gate and went on to become principal, and Superintendent Richard D’Agostino and Madeline Perreault, who Shapiro selected as Toll Gate principal and was the city’s first woman high school principal. Shapiro’s sons, Andrew and Stephen, will also bring comments.

Bethany Furtado, a Toll Gate graduate and chair of the School Committee, will serve as the master of ceremonies.

In addition to the sign made by students at the Warwick Area Career and Technical Center, a brass plaque with a silhouette of Shapiro, created by former Toll Gate art teacher Bill Montella of Warwick, will be unveiled. The plaque was poured last week at the Michael Healy Designs foundry in Manville and will be installed at the school.

Healey said a reception will follow the ceremony in the Toll Gate cafeteria hosted by the School Department and with contributions from friends of the Shapiros.


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