Waterford - Francis Xavier Sweeney, 86, of Waterford, beloved husband for 62 years of Betty (Cragin) Sweeney, passed away peacefully on Dec. 14, 2012, surrounded by his family.
He was born March 3, 1926, in Bangor, Maine, to Lucy (McGrath) Sweeney and Francis X. Sweeney. Shortly after graduation from John Bapst Memorial High School in 1944, he served in the U.S. Navy Armed Guard as a gunner aboard the Liberty Ship Zane Gray during the World War II conflict in the European Theater and was honorably discharged in 1946. He attended Springfield College on the G.I. Bill, married Betty May Cragin in his junior year of college in 1950, and graduated with a bachelor's degree in physical education and biology in 1951.
Francis was hired by the Waterford School System in 1951 as the physical education teacher on a rotation basis throughout the elementary school circuit at Jordan, Cohanzie, Quaker Hill, and Great Neck schools. His rotation later included teaching at Southwest and Clark Lane schools. He became the P.E. teacher at Waterford High School in the inaugural year of 1956, also teaching math, science, and health during his tenure. He loved education and learning, continuing on to receive his master's degree from the University of Connecticut in 1956 and his 6th year degree in 1958. He retired from Waterford High School after 28 years but not from learning.
After retirement, he attended Garfield College in Painesville Ohio, enrolling in the physician assistant program, returning home due to illness. He later graduated from Bridgeport University School of Nursing in 1985 with honors. His nursing career included time at Yale-New Haven Hospital, The William W. Backus Hospital, and Lawrence & Memorial Hospital, as well as the Pan Am Games in Indianapolis in 1987.
He was the catalyst and patriarch of Waterford athletics responsible for the entire athletic program and serving as the first athletic director at Waterford High School. He coached nearly every sport and doubled as the trainer, well versed in sports medicine. Francis coached basketball for 18 years at Waterford High School and would slyly leave the gym open on Sundays for students from New London and Waterford to play. He started Waterford Lacrosse in 1975, but by stepping down as athletic director in the following year, the sport lost traction until the recent resurgence of lacrosse in southeastern Connecticut.
Francis loved the students of Waterford, acting as mentor to many. Most of all, he loved the comradery with the students. He was an avid skier and organized many student ski trips. He was chosen as the first teacher to be the commencement speaker by the graduating class of 1979.
Francis was committed to the town of Waterford as a member of the Waterford School Board and the Waterford Recreation and Parks Commission. He loved his summers at Waterford Beach, directing the swimming and life guard programs at Millstone Point and later at the present location.
Retirement from Waterford schools allowed him to coach women's softball and men's squash at Connecticut College. He was very busy with officiating girls softball and swimming and diving meets, as well as serving as a Red Cross instructor.
He shall always be remembered by his sharp wit and infectious smile.
He is survived by his wife, Betty; six children, Robert and Kerry of Lawton, Okla., Gregory and Linda of Tampa, Fla., Cathleen Sweeney and husband, David Gregoire, of Old Saybrook, Michael and Barbara of East Lyme, Ann Marie and Tim Gunn of Guilford, and James and Cindy of Fond du Lac, Wis.; as well as 15 grandchildren, Alanna, Sean, Cullen, Madison, Brennan, Brandon, Kyle, Erik, Bryan, Jesse, Kevin, Sean, Jamie, Kayla, and Keegan, all of whom shall be ever impacted by his life. He was extremely pleased that his first great-grandchild, due in January, is to be named Xavier Francis Sweeney. Francis is also survived by his sister, Anna and her husband, Charles Waddell, of Milford.
He was predeceased by sisters, Helen and Corinne.
Francis and his family were very grateful for the care he received from the dedicated staff at the New London Rehab and Care facility on Clark Lane in Waterford.
Calling hours will be held from 5 to 8 p.m. on Wednesday, Dec. 19, at the Thomas L. Neilan & Sons Funeral Home, 12 Ocean Ave., New London. A Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated at 11 a.m. on Thursday, Dec. 20, at St. Joseph Church, Squire St., New London. Burial will be at Jordan Cemetery, Waterford.
Come not to mourn but to celebrate his life.
Please visit www.neilanfuneralhome.com to view a memorial video or to leave a condolence message for the family.
Thomas L. Neilan & Sons Funeral Home
12 Ocean Avenue
New London, CT 06320
Published in The Day on Dec. 17, 2012