‘It was a passion for him’: Community remembers longtime CMass tourney director, Oxford teacher and administrator Roger Bacon

In 1948, Roger Bacon met Myrtle Hamilton in geometry class at Oxford High. He was a sophomore, and she was a freshman.

Bacon played basketball, and Myrtle often went to watch the team’s games at Town Hall.

Back then, if one of the players asked a girl to hold his wallet during a game, it meant he wanted to go out with her.

Before one game in the ’48 season, Bacon made that request of Myrtle.

She complied.

“Then he found out I was holding two wallets,” Myrtle recalled this week with a laugh.

After the game, Roger and Myrtle went for a Coke at the nearby Nadeau’s Spa soda fountain. It was their first date and the beginning of a partnership that included 71 years of marriage and more than four decades of running the Central Mass. high school basketball tournaments together.

“My mom and dad were a team,” the Bacons’ daughter, Jane Bania, said. “They were best friends.”

On Wednesday, Roger Bacon passed away at age 90.

He had several recent health issues, including fractured vertebrae, Myrtle said. He spent his 90th birthday, on March 23, in the surgical ICU at UMass Memorial, but he came home and lived his final days in his beloved Oxford, where he raised his family and was a longtime educator and coach at his high school alma mater, and a community leader.

“Roger was very proud of Oxford,” said former Oxford High football coach, teacher and administrator Mike Fields, who goes back more than 50 years with Bacon. “He never left, and that speaks volumes about how much he cared for the town and for Oxford High School. I think it’s safe to say Roger was Oxford High School.”

Bacon leaves his wife, Myrtle, their four daughters, Ginny, Cathy, Jane and Sara, eight grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren, a brother and two sisters.

Bacon was born and raised in Spencer until the summer before his freshman year of high school when his parents built a home in Oxford. Bacon, as Fields said, became synonymous with the town and was affectionately known as “Mr. Oxford.” He was once the town’s man of the year, and the gym at Oxford High is named in his honor.

“Mr. Bacon was so proud of the town of Oxford and Oxford High School,” former OHS teacher and girls’ basketball coach John Doldoorian said. “For him to have that gym named after him just meant the world. I can remember saying to him one day, ‘Mr. Bacon, it’s nice walking under your name coming in here,’ and he kind of smiled and said, ‘Just keep winning,’ and I said, ‘we’re going to do our best.’ ”

Bacon loved Doldoorian’s early 1990 teams, and when star Carla Berube went on to play at UConn, Roger and Myrtle became UConn season ticket-holders. Attending Huskies women’s basketball games, along with fishing on Sebago Lake in Maine, were among Bacon’s favorite pastimes.

Bacon, a U.S. Navy veteran of the Korean War, graduated from Worcester State and taught math at Oxford High while coaching basketball and baseball before becoming assistant principal and then principal. He retired in 1994.

“He was a terrific administrator with a calm demeanor,” Fields said. “He interacted well with students, and his approach with faculty was ‘We’re all in this together.’ ”

Bacon’s daughter, Cathy Looney, who taught eighth grade in Oxford for more than 25 years, followed in her father’s footsteps.

“He was my mentor,” Cathy said. “Any time I needed school advice — how to handle academics or curriculum or students — I always went to my dad. He taught me how important it was to make sure that students saw you outside of the classroom, and he was so right. I made sure I went to many events so I could connect with students because that’s what he did.”

Whether it was flipping hamburgers at Pirates football games or, in recent years, attending teacher retirement parties, Bacon never missed an Oxford High event.  

Including their own, Roger and Myrtle went to 69 Oxford High proms together. Two years ago, when their daughter, Sara Bacon, and her OHS class marked their 40th reunion, he stopped by to give a little speech.

“Everyone was so excited when he walked in,” Sara said.

“Every time I come home,” the Bacons’ daughter Ginny Beamsley, who lives in New Mexico, said, “he would tell me about a student he had in such and such a year and what they’re doing now and what their kids are doing. He really enjoyed following the students.”

The family has established the Roger D. Bacon Jr. Scholarship Fund.

In 1977, Bacon became director of the Central Mass. Boys’ Basketball Tournament, a post he held, with Myrtle right by his side, for 43 years. Beginning in 1997, the Bacons also ran the Central Mass. Girls’ Basketball Tournament. Additionally, they helped out with the MIAA state tournament.

“When you thought of the Central Mass. basketball tournament, Roger was the one you always identified it with,” said former Marlborough High athletic director and MIAA assistant director Rich Riley.

Riley worked for Bacon in a variety of capacities (site director, public address, security) during Bacon’s last 20 years as tournament director.

“He was a gentleman,” said Riley, who visited Bacon two days before he passed, “a dedicated professional and an outstanding school administrator and tournament director.”

Peter Smith, the MIAA’s associate director, worked closely with Bacon when he served as basketball liaison.

“It’s amazing to think about the time in his life he gave toward others,” Smith said. “He was someone who carried himself with class and poise at all times and someone who tried to make the best possible athletic experience for student-athletes across the section and across the state.”

The Bacons were fixtures at WPI’s Harrington Auditorium for so many memorable Central Mass. semifinals and finals through the years.

“What a joy to go to the games and see Roger and Myrtle,” Patty Provost, the former Notre Dame Academy athletic director, basketball and field hockey coach, said.

“He was the ‘big boss,’” Provost said fondly. “He was awesome. He loved his work, and she loved it, too.”

In their own version of March Madness, the Bacons oversaw the tournament seeds and arranged for the game sites, tickets, programs, game staff, security and referees, and, with weather always a concern at that time of year, postponements and reschedules.

They handled it seamlessly and joyfully.

“I don’t think anyone can say how much they meant to Central Mass. basketball,” Doldoorian said, “because they put their hearts and souls into it, and they made it special for all of us.”

Former Leominster boys’ basketball coach Steve Dubzinski, who is now an MIAA’s assistant director, always thought the Central Mass. championship trophies should be named after Bacon.

“Then,” Dubzinski said, “the tournament slogan could be ‘Bring home the Bacon!’

“Roger was the best,” Dubzinski added. “He and Myrtle were a terrific tandem.”

Myrtle said her husband’s favorite parts of running the tournament were the people he met and worked with, ADs, coaches, referees, and seeing the students come together from all the schools.

“As officials,” longtime basketball referee Kevin L’Ecuyer of Worcester said, “we just respected this giant of a man in our basketball world.”

In his role as Central Mass. tournament director, Bacon witnessed many great games and teams. Certainly, highlights for him included the Oxford boys winning championships in 1980 and 2016, and the Oxford girls capturing titles in 1991, 1992, 1993, 2001, 2002 and 2005.

Former Bartlett High boys’ basketball coach Don Cushing’s friendship with Bacon spanned 50 years.

“He was a great guy, and I enjoyed being part of the MIAA with him,” said Cushing, who served as Central Mass. Soccer Tournament director for 20 years. “He was legendary in terms of MIAA existence. He reminds me of (former Dallas Cowboys coach) Tom Landry. He was always dressed, always looking prim and proper, never in a sweatshirt. He was of that time frame in athletics. He just believed in very professional dress all the time.”

Picking up tickets or dropping off MIAA reports to the Bacons’ home, as Provost did when she was NDA’s AD, always meant a chat at the kitchen table while enjoying Myrtle’s famous chocolate chip cookies.

Often, Myrtle would bring a box of cookies to the tourney games.

“I would try to sit next to her so I could get seconds,” Cushing said.

In recent years, Bacon would direct visitors to his home into the dining room, where life-sized cutouts of Roger and Myrtle on their wedding day are proudly displayed. The cardboard standees were an anniversary gift from Cathy.

“You think you see two people there,” Myrtle said, “but it’s (cutouts of) Roger and I getting married.”

The cutouts of the iconic couple will be at Bacon’s funeral April 27 at First Congregational Church in Oxford.

The Bacons’ last year running the tournaments was 2020. COVID halted the tourney after the state semifinals. The Maynard girls and Sutton boys played the final games of the tourney at Worcester State. Fans were not allowed.

“Roger told the student-athletes, ‘You’ll remember this the rest of your lives,’ ” Myrtle said.

The weekend before, the Bacons were recognized for their years of dedication to the MIAA at center court during halftime of each Central Mass. boys’ and girls’ championship game.

“It was always Roger and Myrtle,” said Mark Donahue, the former Uxbridge High boys’ basketball coach and AD and MIAA basketball committee member. “You would see them year after year after year. They did a phenomenal job.”

Donahue knew Bacon since he was principal at Oxford, a SWCL rival of Uxbridge, and got to know him better while working the tournaments.

“I saw firsthand what Roger did running those tournaments,” Donahue said. “It was a passion for him.”

Next Saturday was originally supposed to be a combined 90th birthday party for Roger and Myrtle, whose milestone b-day is in July, at Point Breeze Restaurant in Webster.

Instead, following Bacon’s funeral, the event will be a celebration of his wonderful life.

“Mr. Bacon was a great guy,” Doldoorian said, “and I think the kids at Oxford really loved him, too. Every time I saw him, he was in a good mood. I never called him ‘Roger’ in my whole life. He told me a hundred times, ‘Call me Roger.’ I said, ‘I can’t.’ I just had too much respect for him and what he meant to me.”

—Contact Jennifer Toland at jennifer.toland@telegram.com. Follow her on X, formerly known as Twitter, @JenTolandTG.

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