Philip Stearns
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STEARNS, Philip Philip E. Stearns, 62, of West Hartford, died Sunday (September 2, 2007). Cherished retired teacher of English at Manchester High for 35 years, he retained his zest for life until the last moment. In addition to longtime partner Stephen L. Purdy, he leaves broken-hearted numerous close friends, colleagues and legions of former students in whose lives he continued to participate. Also surviving, his dear cousin Carol Lehman of Louisville, Kentucky. Phil was predeceased by his parents, Eleanor (Bell) Stearns and Clarence E. Stearns, whose joy and engaging minds could only have created our Phil. Full of life and words from the start, his boyhood in upstate New York included writing a "Teen Scene" column for the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, participation in the high school debate team, and attendance at area college programs. At 16, he drew on an American Field Service scholarship to spend a summer with a native family on the Greek Island of Crete. As an undergraduate at Colby College in Maine, his passion for learning involved continued debate and study during his junior year at Exeter and Cambridge Universities in England. In the spirit Phil had always worked to help finance his education, graduate study at The University of Wisconsin Madison included six months of teaching in a secondary school – predictably, he chose inner-city Beloit. Indeed, while subsequently tapped for professorship by prestigious universities, he answered his calling to public secondary education in the diverse and evolving community of Manchester. In jumping in full-steam, he tapped literature and theater, community and politics, to help each of his students find an inner spark and self-esteem. He is most remembered for his stewardship of students to The Hartford Stage ("the big city") and a decades-long leadership of the school's Junior Honors English Independent Study Project. With an unlimited scope for the latter, its key criteria remained honest research and respect for others' points of view. Subjects ranged from the likes of Long Wharf Theater to a Broadway choreographer to Holocaust survivors, and the program helped many young people proceed to esteemed higher education, honors, and to strongly successful personal and professional lives. Phil's other mentoring at Manchester High included presence on the school's chapter of AFS, and repeated guidance to students during summer trips to Europe. His unwavering commitment to legitimate ideas and social justice often translated into support for colleagues "up against the system." Those who knew Phil and Stephen saw their art- and music-filled home as a refuge for conversation and solitude, books and food – and cats. We would like to thank the many hearts and hands of Vitas Hospice of East Hartford, and suggest that any memorial contributions be sent either to them, the Helen and Harry Gray Cancer Center at Hartford Hospital, or a Democratic candidate of your choice. Burial services are private, with a public memorial service to be announced in a few weeks. Online messages of remembrance and sympathy may be made at

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Published in Hartford Courant from Sep. 5 to Sep. 6, 2007.
Memories & Condolences
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8 entries
December 20, 2007
I just learned of Mr. Stearns passing in a Hartford Courant article mailed to me. What a great loss! I was a student in Mr. Stearns' English class about 35 years ago, I think it was 1972 or 1973. Truly a warm and caring man that brought out the creativity in everyone he taught. He was the best teacher I've ever had..EVER HAD! He really created a nurturing environment for a timid goofy guy like me...I'll never forget him or the experience..or that twinkle in his eye, or those sweater vests! My thoughts are with his partner, Stephen and his friends and family this holiday.
Mark Zarbo
November 2, 2007
I graduated from MHS in 1982. Phil Stearns inspired me to study abroad in College (I did and now live in Europe, running a program for university exchange students) and to pursue my writing and language skills (I went on to receive an MA in English). To this day I feel that "Mr. Stearns" was one of the most committed, effective, and engaging teachers I had in my many years of schooling. He will be missed.
Laura Gatzkiewicz (Valencia, Spain)
Laura Gatzkiewicz
September 15, 2007
I haven't seen Mr. Stearns in years, but remember his class and his spirit vividly. I am sure that there are many former students who will recall his passion for teaching, his caring nature and guidance. Twenty years after leaving MHS, I am only sorry that my son, who is now a junior did not get to experience his classroom as well. All good wishes and memories of trips to Hartford Stage, lunches at Brown Thompsons and "quizzies" - I send to those of you who grieve now. It is a gift to have the ability to leave your imprint on another...
Nancy Healy
September 7, 2007
Phil Stearns will always remain in my memory as a treasured friend and colleague. I retired from Manchester High School in 1994, and I haven't seen Phil since then, but we exchanged cards and notes occasionally. He was unforgettable, both for his intellect and for his sincere warmth, a rare combination of qualities for which he was much loved by both peers and students. The world is richer because Phil lived, and it will seem sadder now that he is gone.
Karen Waggoner
September 5, 2007
My condolences to Phil's loved ones.

I was in Phil's English classes in 1975 and 1976, I believe. He took two Exchange students and me on a trip to NYC in 1975: I remember the Village, seeing "Pippin", and Welsh rarebit (Phil chuckled because I thought it was rabbit...). To me, Phil was a humane intellectual, and I will always remember the example he set.
Bill Liswell
September 5, 2007
We have lost a most kind and gentle soul. Phil's brillance was hidden by his humility. His pain hidden by his joy for life. Fear hidden by his limitless caring and compassion for others. He had a beautiful smile that was always at the ready and a laugh that danced easily from his lips. The memory of the twinkle in his eyes will replace the star that went out in heaven the day we lost Phil. I have known very few people who were truly loved, revered, and respected by all. Phil Stearns was one of these people. He will always be alive in our hearts.
Deborah Palmer
September 5, 2007
I have had the good fortune of having Phil and stephen as neighbors for the past 8 years. Phil has always impressed by his unbounding enthusiasm and joie de vivre. He was a superb conversationalist....always so interesting, and interested in others...particularly if one was experiencing a challenge. I never heard him speak one word of self pity or complaint. He was , and is in my mind a uniquely enlightened and evolved caring and compassionate, and always that warm and open smile, with the ever-present twinkle in his eye and spirit. My deepest sympathy to all who loved him.
Elizabeth Daly
September 5, 2007
as a former student of Mr. Stearns, I can honestly tell you that through his example and teaching, anything good I've done in my life or compassion/kindness I've shown to others is because of sincerest condolences to the family and fellow friends of Mr. Stearns...
Carl Fenton
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