Honoring the Legacy of Dr. Mike McGrath
Patti Rasmussen • photography by The Signal
June, 2020 - Issue #189

When I heard my friend Mike McGrath died, it took my breath away. I'm not sure why it was such a surprise. He was 83 (the same age as my mom when she died) and the last time I saw him, he was starting to slow down a bit.
To say he was larger than life almost sounds ridiculous, but I just never expected him to leave.
When I posted a message on Facebook about Dr. McGrath, I was happy to hear from so many people who had such great regards for him. Many of my Facebook friends were teachers, city officials, non-profit leaders and parents who praised his work with children, as well as his business sense.
One in particular spoke of McGrath's leadership and strengths, more importantly, wrote about his gratitude. He went on to say he felt he owed his whole career to Dr. McGrath, who took a chance on him when he was hired by the district back in 1991. Many people will take the passing of Dr. McGrath to write about themselves because McGrath was always helping us feel better about our own ability to make a difference.
I am in total agreement with this statement. As a young mom with four children in the school district, I wanted to get involved and I did. PTA president at one school, Site Council chair at another, I took every opportunity I had to call out the district on a variety of issues I saw as a detriment to students and parents.
Silly things really. I remember when the teachers parked their cars on the street around the school building, making it just about impossible for parents to pull up safely to let their children out in the morning. When I asked the principal why the teachers just didn't use the parking lot provided to them, she explained the street was closer to their classrooms, which was not a good answer to me. So I went to her boss: Dr. McGrath. Teachers now had to walk a bit further to their classrooms, but children were safer.
I spent many Tuesday evenings with my partner in crime, Kimberle, attending school board meetings. We just sat in the back of the room and took notes. We probably bugged them, but they took our phone calls and they listened.
But it was a little old building at Newhall Elementary School that brought Dr. McGrath and I closer. After the 1994 Northridge quake, we discovered that this wonderful old 1930s school auditorium had been converted into a warehouse some 20 years earlier. Dr. McGrath had his reasons for doing this, he said, but now we wanted it back. Did the $2.3 million price tag worry Kimberle and me? Nope. And it was Dr. McGrath who patiently walked us through the ins and outs of politics to give this building a chance.
In the end, it was the school board and the voters of the Newhall School District that finally brought that magnificent building back to life, but it was Dr. McGrath that made us feel like there wasn't anything we couldn't do.
Mayor Cameron Smyth has known Dr. McGrath for years. His mom Sue was the physical education teacher at Peachland Elementary, and his dad, Clyde, was the superintendent of the William S. Hart Union High School District. Smyth said it is no accident that the public schools in Santa Clarita stand out as some of the best in California.
"Dr. McGrath was a tireless advocate for our elementary districts, and countless students have benefited from the standard he set," he said. "Not only were Mike and my dad colleagues, they were friends. I always enjoyed hearing the stories from their frequent trips to the State Capitol. Santa Clarita has lost another of it's lions, but his mark on our community will not be forgotten."
Well said, Cameron.
Rest in peace, Dr. McGrath. You made a difference.
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