Charles Foley, former Concord High principal, dies at age 90

  • Louis Cartier is loaded into an ambulance after being shot by police during the hostage situation at Concord High School in December of 1985. Monitor photo—File

  • Charles Foley in 1990. Monitor photo—File

  • Concord High School Principal Charles Foley addresses an incident in which a former student, Louis Cartier, took two people hostage at the school in December 1985. Foley reportedly offered to switch places with the hostages. The incident ended when Cartier was shot and killed by police. It was the first of two major tragedies to strike the school under Foley, as social studies teacher Christa McAuliffe was killed when the space shuttle Challenger exploded seven weeks later. Monitor file

  • Charles Foley speakes at Sacred Heart Church in 1993. Monitor photo—File

  • Principal Charles Foley cleans up trash and a chair in front of Concord High School in this undated photo. Monitor photo—File

  • Concord High School Principal Charles Foley explains the hostage situation involving Louis Cartier to students in December 1985. Monitor file

  • Concord High School Principal Charles Foley frowns during a press conference announcing school reaction to the death of teacher Christa McAuliffe, Jan. 28, 1986. McAuliffe was on the space shuttle Challenger when it exploded shortly after takeoff. AP file

  • Charles Foley stands with his son, Chip, in an undated photo. Chip Foley confirmed that his father died Monday after a battle with leukemia. He was 90.

  • Charles Foley with his son Chip (center) and grandson Connor in an undated photo. Courtesy—Chip Foley

Monitor staff
Published: 8/22/2017 11:54:07 PM

Charles Foley, the Concord High School principal who combined compassion and strength to guide students and faculty through two high-profile local tragedies, died from cancer Monday at his home on Cape Cod.

Foley, who was 90, died from leukemia, which was diagnosed last month, his only child, Chip Foley, said Tuesday by phone. Charles Foley also leaves behind his wife of 45 years, Carol.

Those contacted Tuesday wasted no time citing a pair of incidents to show the impact Foley had on them and the city’s educational community. One happened in December of 1985, when a 16-year-old former Concord High student named Louis Cartier held two hostages at the school before police shot and killed him.

In that episode, Foley offered to change places with the hostages, but Cartier refused.

But the defining moment of Foley’s career occurred just seven weeks later, on Jan. 28, 1986, when Concord High social studies teacher Christa McAuliffe died with six astronauts after the space shuttle Challenger exploded in the clear Florida sky 73 seconds after liftoff.

McAuliffe had been chosen from among 10,000 teachers, all competing to become the “first ordinary citizen in space,” as NASA put it.

Members of the national media, some of whom were already here as the Challenger neared take off, turned into a frenzied mob as reporters, photographers and cameramen and -women elbowed their way around town, trying to capture the despair and sadness that had blanketed the city. A helicopter from a news organization once landed on the school property, looking for a story.

In the middle of it all stood Foley, who shielded the Concord High “family” from overzealous reporters. Chris Makris, who retired two years ago as a social studies teacher at the high school, was watching the launch with Foley and several others in the main office.

“When it was finally confirmed that something had happened, it was like Charlie put things into motion and I got out of his way,” Makris said. “The media descended upon Concord High School like nobody’s business, and when he spoke to the media, before and after the event, I was just amazed. One of the words I’m looking for is ‘grace.’ ”

But Foley was certainly no pushover. As Makris said, “He was able to deal with the media in a way that made it look like he’d been doing it for years. He wasn’t a country bumpkin like they were pushing him around. He was in total control of the school in a very good and positive way.”

Lise Bofinger joined the high school’s science department in 1984, five years after Foley was hired as principal. She recalled the impact Foley had on everyone after the Challenger disaster.

“It’s the time he showed his true colors, during the Challenger event,” Bofinger said. “He was amazing. He pulled the school together. We were descended upon by the press like you wouldn’t believe it, and he just told everybody to get out and leave Concord High, and he protected the kids, protected the staff, protected all of us. He was really strong through that whole event.”

Added Tom Herbert, former head of the social studies department, “A great leader, and he took no credit for that. He said it was all the result of the school itself pulling together, and the faculty and the assistant principals that he had and the guidance counselor and the whole staff.”

Foley, in fact, was so concerned about distractions that he turned down an offer from President Ronald Reagan to speak at the school’s graduation in June of 1986.

“Charlie told him, ‘Thanks, but no thanks, we got things covered,’ ” Herbert said.

“Pretty amazing,” Bofinger said. “He said that this was going to be Concord’s graduation. This was not going to be the nation’s graduation.”

Through those dark days, Foley never brought home his sadness, said Chip Foley, who was a 12-year-old student at Conant School during the Challenger tragedy.

“He came home that day and each of the days thereafter like nothing was wrong,” said Chip, 43, a middle school history teacher and high school golf coach in New York state. “We went on with our regular life at home, whether I was going to hockey practice or we were in the backyard rink. There was absolutely no change in his demeanor.”

Foley continued: “He never brought any problems home, and one reason was there never was a problem to him. Everything could be rectified and was going to be rectified.”

Chip Foley said the same scenario unfolded seven weeks before, after Cartier, who had dropped out of school, was killed.

“I remember hearing about that in school and on the news on TV,” Chip said. “I was always waiting for my father to come home and show signs of distress, of worry, but he never did. He was just regular Charlie, whistling and happy. He never let anything negatively affect him in his life.”

That included the weeks after he was diagnosed with leukemia, which progressed more quickly than anyone thought.

“Even up until a few days ago, he woke up whistling and cheerful,” Chip Foley said. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”

Ray Duckler bio photo

Ray Duckler, our intrepid columnist, focuses on the Suncook Valley. He floats from topic to topic, searching for the humor or sadness or humanity in each subject. A native New Yorker, he loves the Yankees and Giants. The Red Sox and Patriots? Not so much.

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