In a picture of Thomas Wootton High School’s social studies department in 1980, there was no need to point out which teacher was John Musgrove. Tall in stature and giant in reputation, Musgrove stood out at Wootton, where he taught for more than 30 years. Even in declining health, Musgrove continued teaching history at Wootton until he died at Shady Grove Hospital following a heart attack on April 13 at the age of 57.
Before he became Wootton’s principal in the 2003-04 school year, Michael Doran heard stories about Musgrove. He said meeting legendary people is often a disappointment. "Not so with John. He was the real deal," Doran said at a service of remembrance and celebration in the school auditorium on Thursday, April 20. Upon meeting the British-born Doran, Musgrove said, "Hey Boss, the redcoats are back!"
MUSGROVE HAD AN uncanny ability to remember his students — history wasn’t just a subject he taught, but something that he and his students were part of through each of his years at Wootton. Musgrove never married. "The Wootton community was his family," said Gay Maslow, his colleague in Wootton’s social studies department. "Wootton students were his children."
Doran described being shadowed by an intern who’d graduated from Wootton in 1986. The student asked to visit Musgrove, and assumed his teacher wouldn’t remember him. Musgrove looked at the alum, and said, "Graduated ‘86." He paused for several seconds, and said, "Last name, Bernstein." Another pause, then Musgrove said, "I forget your name, but they called you ‘Cal,’" because of the Cal Ripken Jr. Orioles jerseys the alum wore as a student. Musgrove was right on all counts. "He remembered all of these things because they were important to him," Doran said.
Brad Wilcox, a Wootton 1979 graduate, has a daughter Amber who is a Wootton freshman this year. Amber didn’t even need to introduce herself to Musgrove this year — he already knew that Brad Wilcox, class of ‘79, had a daughter who’d be attending Wootton. On Back to School Night last fall, Wilcox left class after the final bell rang. He passed Musgrove’s class, where the door was still shut. Inside the room were all the Wootton parents, captivated by Musgrove. Wilcox opened the door, stuck his head in and said, "You all don’t know it, but your kids have the best teacher."
PAST AND PRESENT Wootton students came forward at the memorial to share memories of their teacher. One 2003 graduate said he rarely got along with teachers, but respected Musgrove and still thinks about his class every day.
"That is the essence of John; he truly loved his work," said Gay Maslow, Musgrove’s colleague in the Wootton history department. "John told a story every day in Room 153. Day after day, year after year, John took the kids in his room on a ride through time."
Long after Musgrove’s formal education finished in the University of Virginia masters program, he continued an informal education consisting of hundreds of history books, Maslow said. In turn, Musgrove was a storyteller who could make historical figures like Winston Churchill, Franklin D. Roosevelt and King Henry VIII (and his wives) into personalities who were there with the students.
Musgrove’s delivery was just as legendary — phrases like "quizzie-poo" delivered in a booming voice. Wilson Bascom, a Wootton physics teacher, joked that he’d heard about 10 percent of Musgrove’s course just by being near the classroom. "If you walked down the hall, you heard his course," Bascom said.
"Every department needs a Musgrove, but only this department had him," said Hap Allison, who once taught with Musgrove.
Musgrove’s sense of humor and gifts for teaching and storytelling were common knowledge at Wootton, but Maslow said other facets of his life were less well known. He loved playing poker on Saturday nights with the guys, he loved to cook and to plant flowers. "He really was this big, huge guy who loved to be a gentle giant," Maslow said.
Other hobbies were part of his reputation, especially hunting. He grew up in Great Falls, Va., and duck hunting trips were a family tradition. Allison played the hammer dulcimer along with a slideshow of Musgrove’s 30 years at Wootton, along with pictures of him in camouflage with a row of ducks he’d bagged on a hunt.
ERIC KAY had hoped to bring Musgrove a cigar when he graduated from Wootton next month. He brought one to the remembrance at Wootton, and left it by a memorial collage assembled by his students and colleagues. Just as Musgrove inspired some of his students to become history teachers, he’d inspired Kay to make the history he’d learned part of his day-to-day life. An intern on Capitol Hill, Kay leads constituents on trips of the Capitol. Every story he tells is something he learned from Musgrove, Kay said. "He’s irreplaceable, the kind of teacher you can’t and won’t find again," Kay said.