After 31 years in education, Pat Rooney is finally ready for the retired life

December 24, 2018 GMT

If you see a fella driving around Lake Havasu City in an army-green 1966 Mustang, give him a friendly wave. Chances are good that he was a positive influence on your life, your kids’ lives and even your grandkids’ lives.

Pat Rooney was a Havasu educator and coach beginning in 1971. He moved up the ranks, working as a teacher, coach, vice-principal and finally, principal at Lake Havasu High School for six years. He retired in 2001.

But devoting 31 years of his life to education wasn’t enough for Rooney. He went on to serve as a school board member for 16 years, helping to shape policy for the Lake Havasu Unified School District.

But now, at 75, Rooney has decided to hang it up. He didn’t run for re-election for his school board seat this year because he felt it was time to pass the baton and take it easy. At least, sort of.

Rooney’s idea of “easy” doesn’t quite align with others’ definition of the word.

“I walk three miles in the morning and three miles in the evening,” he said of his solo exercise routine. “I walk fast, so my wife Virginia won’t go with me. She says I march.”

The desert suits Rooney. He was born in Phoenix and remembers seeing street cars there. In 1949, his family moved to Yuma. He later graduated from Northern Arizona University. But his alma mater doesn’t keep him from being a fierce Notre Dame fan. He’s proud of his Irish heritage; his grandparents moved to the U.S. from Ireland.

“Every good Irish family in the 1940s had a Mike, a Tim and a Pat. So did mine. And my sister’s name is Kathleen,” he laughed, proving his point.

He was an industrious kid, even in elementary school.

“My brother and I sold cantaloupes door-to-door – 10 cents apiece or three for a quarter. At first, we used my sister’s baby buggy to haul the cantaloupes around. But then the wheels fell off the buggy, so we had to use a wagon,” Rooney said.

The motivation for the enterprise? The brothers wanted to buy good-quality swimming fins.

Later, Rooney also had a route delivering newspapers.

A Catholic school student until eighth grade, he graduated from Yuma High School. A good student, he enjoyed school – it was the place where he found discipline, integrity and joy. Still, the idea of being a career educator didn’t take root until much later.

In college, Rooney chose to study finance, but found it too dry. He switched to social studies and earned his degree. Thinking law school was his calling, he gave it a go at the University of Arizona, but dropped out after a semester.

Both his brothers were serving in the military, so Rooney did an about-face himself and joined the Army in 1967.

“I was 24 years old. Today, I’m glad I had the experience,” he said of his time in Vietnam at an Army garrison. He was an intelligence officer with the first infantry division stationed in Lai Khe, about 45 miles northeast of Saigon.

Rooney married his high school sweetheart Virginia. They have three children and 10 grandchildren. His daughters live in Iowa and Las Vegas. His son Brandan carried on the family tradition of military service. A West Point graduate, today he is a lieutenant colonel in the Army, based in North Carolina.

After Rooney’s own military service, he returned to NAU for his master’s degree in history. Then he heard about job openings for teachers at a young little town on the banks of the Colorado River.

“In 1971, I interviewed for a civics teaching job at Lake Havasu High School,” he said. “We moved here in August, and in October they had a big celebration for the dedication of the London Bridge. Still, there wasn’t much here. There were no stoplights in town. In fact, I hadn’t planned on staying in Havasu very long. But I ran into good, nice kids and parents in the community.

“It convinced me that that this was a good place to raise a family, so we stayed. I’ve never regretted it.”

Havasu is all that much richer for Rooney’s decision. As previously noted, he moved up the ranks, serving at various times as an educator, coach vice-principal, athletic director and principal. The high school and its athletes won dozens of academic and performance awards during his years on the district’s payroll.

It’s not a stretch to label Rooney as an expert at working with teenagers.

“Kids are the same now as when I started teaching. They are always trying to find out where they fit in. It’s important that adults mentor and encourage them. You can be firm as long as you are fair and honest. If you have high expectations for kids, they can meet them,” he said.