Tom Varughese: educator, friend, mentor

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A man loved by not only his students, but by the community as a whole, is being remembered for his commitment to education and his kind and gentle nature.

Thomas Varughese was a man of many talents. A coach, a principal and a mentor, he was described as a man who was treasured by all, and will be missed throughout communities across the Lakeland. Varughese passed away last week at the age of 66.

Varughese spent over 40 years of his life dedicated to educating students in the Cold Lake area, through his years as principal and board trustee.

In September 1974, Varughese began laying the foundation for a career in education, starting under the Bonnyville School District. Seven years later, in 1981, he was appointed principal at Grand Centre Junior High, and retired as principal of Grand Centre Middle School in 2006.

Varughese was near and dear to the hearts of many. For Kathy McKale, principal of Cold Lake Elementary School (CLES), he was more than just a fellow educator, he was a mentor and a dear friend.

McKale knew Varughese for over 30 years. He was the principal at her children’s school, and later at the middle school where she was teaching. It didn’t take long for Varughese to persuade McKale to take on the role of assistant principal.

“Tom inspired me to go from teacher to assistant principal, and then to principal of CLES. He mentored, supported, encouraged and guided me along my personal and professional journey,” described McKale. “Tom led by example, and always had positive things to say along the way. He made a huge difference in this world.”

She continued, that he was an inspiration to all of his staff and students, and made decisions that were based on needs and professional development of his school and community.

“He taught everyone to love and respect each other through the character education program at our school. As a trustee he wanted to have a voice and do what is right for kids, because it takes a village to raise a child.”

Varughese was the longest serving trustee on the Northern Lights Public Schools (NLPS) board and will be cherished by those who knew him for his enthusiasm for education and adoration for his students.

“Tom had a passion for lifelong learning and compassion for others that made him a great trustee and also a wonderful mentor and friend,” said NLPS board chair Mandi Skogen. “He made a difference in the lives of many people and he will be greatly missed by all of us at Northern Lights.”

Arlene Hrynyk, NLPS board vice-chair, has known Varughese for over 15 years, and met him through their positions on the board after starting her first term as a trustee.

“Tom was all about people and relationships, and that certainly characterized in everything that he did,” she noted. “Tom always spoke for the people… He was always calm and steady, and wanted to ground us and remind us that the decisions we were making were going to affect others.”

She continued, “He just had all of these little unique characteristics about him that could draw anybody into that… and that was just Tom, he was just true to himself at all times.”

Cold Lake High School principal Dustin Walker had worked with Varughese for a number of years, and described him as a pillar within the community and the local public school system.

Walker said Varughese would always remember your name, and was always there for his students and their families.

“He just knew how everyone fit in Cold Lake,” Walker exclaimed. “He always had time to sit and talk. He had time for every single kid who just wanted to share something, and Tom remembered details about people and their lives and made them feel special.”

City of Cold Lake Coun. Darrell MacDonald is hoping to commemorate Varughese in a unique way, by naming the new Cold Lake artificial sports field in his honour. Aside from his dedication to his students, Varughese also had a passion for teaching outside of the classroom and was actively involved in minor sports.

“He had the busiest life in the world. He was a principal and was doing all of these different things, and he still had time to coach and play and be involved with minor sports,” MacDonald recalled.

He added he is privileged to be able to make the motion to recognize Varughese, and should it be approved, said it will be the most satisfying accomplishment he’s had so far as a city councillor.

As an elected official, MacDonald continued, you are always trying to do what is best for your community, and honoring Varughese and his work in the area is both impactful and significant.

“I have all of the pride in the world to be able to recognize the people and individuals that happen to make Cold Lake the way it is.”

McKale said the loss of such an incredible man will continue to be felt throughout the Lakeland, not only within the school district, but also outside of the walls of the education system.

“He truly made a difference in anything he did and said. He was highly respected and loved by all… and we were blessed to know him.”

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