"Times like this, you'll go out and give the buses a thumbs up to let them know that everyone is outside of the building, because it's not like a regular day when kids are heading out after homeroom," he told The Compass last Thursday. "There's some hanging around, chatting with their teachers and so on. So, I went out (Thursday) and gave the buses a thumbs up and I said, 'Jeez. That's the last time I'm going to be doing that.'
"That's the kind of stuff that makes you think a little bit. So yes, that's makes it feel a little more real I suppose."
Gillingham was referring to the fact last week marked the end of a 30-year career in education. And he's not the only school administrator in the Baccalieu Collegiate system saying so long. Gerard Murphy, principal at Cabot Academy in Western Bay, cleared his desk last week after 35 years in the field.
"For me, it's been very rewarding," Murphy told The Compass, seated in his office last Thursday. "I don't regret one moment of it. Even as I exit the profession now, I'm doing so with a tinge of mixed emotions. Thirty-five years in a profession that you particularly enjoy and feel that you're making a contribution, and in many ways it defines you as an individual. For me, it's not necessarily a day to shout 'Hooray.' After a lot of reflection, the time had simply come."
Murphy spent 20 years at Cabot Academy and before that was principal at Corpus Christi Elementary in Northern Bay for eight years. Prior to coming to Old Perlican, Gillingham taught locally at schools in Heart's Content, New Harbour and Northern Bay.
"The time I've spent here, I've thoroughly enjoyed it," Murphy said of his days at the Western Bay school.
He's reached a point in his career where some students in the hallways represent the second generation of North Shore kids he's encountered.
"I am teaching the children of children I've taught, so I have a generation out there of grandparents whom I've taught their children and am teaching their grandchildren."
End of an era
The loss of Gillingham is noteworthy for Baccalieu Collegiate — he's the only principal in the school's 15-year history. In last week's end-of-year assemblies for junior and senior high students, he thanked students, staff, and the school community at large for all they've done over the years.
"We're very proud of our school, and it's a sense of pride that comes from knowing that everybody involved has worked hard to put us where we are. We've got a very good school in terms of academics and behaviour."
Gillingham also credits the people from outside the school who've been more than willing to support it over the years.
"We've been very, very lucky, very fortunate, to have built what I consider to be a really good community school. Even though we cover a large area and lots of different communities have children coming here, I still look at us as a solid community school, and I'm very proud of the accomplishments that we've made over the years. And it comes as a result of the hard work of everybody involved."
Asked about his post-retirement plans, Gillingham admits he doesn't intend to completely walk away from the working life, though he'd like to avoid the Monday-through-Friday, nine-to-five routine.
"I love snowmobiling in the winter time and hunting and salmon fishing is certainly a summertime activity," said Gillingham, who still lives in his hometown of Ochre Pit Cove.
Gillingham has been a member of the North Shore Regional Fire Department for almost as long as his teaching career, and he recently came on board as a volunteer with the local harbour authority. He also volunteers with his local church and the Canadian Tire Jumpstart program
Murphy too doesn't intend to simply disappear into retirement.
"I still intend to be productive in some fashion," he said.
He's served as mayor of his hometown of Bay de Verde for 18 of his 20 years on council. Though Murphy hasn't made a final decision on running again in the fall general election, he's not ruling it out.
"It's not off the table," he said. "I still have a great deal of interest in my community."
Most importantly for him, he notes, are three grandchildren he plans to spend a lot more time with post-retirement.
Gillingham and Murphy are not the only people retiring from their respective schools this year. Valda AuCoin and Margie Tucker finished their final week at Baccalieu Collegiate, and physical education teacher Keith Neil is retiring at Cabot Academy. Caretaker Gary Slade retired from work at Cabot Academy earlier this year.