The community came out to Mount Sinai High School on Monday night— clouds threatening and thunder rumbling in the distance— to honor their principal, Robert Grable, who died at his home on Friday morning from unknown causes. He was 49 years old.
The educator and former professional baseball player inspired many with his wit, understanding, and dedication to the education of the children in his school.
The remembrance vigil began outside in front of the high school. The Mount Sinai Fire Department hung an American flag from a ladder truck and a fire pit was burning for later where students, parents and teachers were to put messages on cards to their beloved principal to be burned and sent upward.
As the sky darkened, Father Francis Pizzarelli of Hope House Ministries— known simply as Father Frank to many— spoke about meeting Grable when he was the Mount Sinai Middle School principal. He said that Grable had impressed him as an extraordinary educator and athlete but also as an “unbelievable person” who always went the extra step.
Then the alarms rang. A flash flood warning lit up the phones in the crowd, the gathering storm would bring torrential rains and flooding. Officials decided to move the ceremony inside and the people made their way into the high school building as rain fell and lightning struck.
Safely inside the school’s hallways, the auditorium, and cafeteria, the ceremony continued. The speakers were stationed in the school’s main office and spoke over the public address system to talk about Grable’s effect on them, their school, and the community.
Rain battered the school roof and thunder cracked. Many commented that it was Grable breaking up the ceremony in his honor, something he probably would have disapproved of and apologized for. He was, they said, a man concerned more about the people around him than himself.
During an interlude, the Mount Sinai High School choir along with staff and alumni sang “Requiem” from the auditorium stage.
Mount Sinai alumnus Ryan Wilson and Sydney Pirreca both spoke about Grable’s care for his students, his humor, the respect he gained from his colleagues and students alike, and his devotion to his daughters.
Wilson called him “a great mentor and charismatic individual. A staple in our community and a constant presence.”
Grable was a three-sport athlete when he attended Connetquot school district playing football, basketball and baseball. He was good enough to make baseball his first career and was drafted to the Detroit Tigers in 1991, which led him eventually to the Philadelphia Phillies organization.
He retired from baseball in 1995 to become an educator, another career where he achieved the highest levels of accomplishment. Grable had been inducted into the Suffolk County Sports Hall of Fame, the Connetquot Hall of Fame and St. John’s University Athletic Hall of Fame.
Matt Dryroff, assistant principal of the high school, said Grable’s style was inclusive and that he didn’t work for Grable but with him.
“He was all about team,” Dryroff said. “His door was always open.”
The 2019 commencement speech was played over country singer Tim McGraw’s song “Live Like You Were Dying” that Grable quoted from during the ceremony. He told his students to follow the message in the song if not the meaning.
Wilson said Grable gave poignant advice during that speech “to live each day as if it was your last and to understand the value of each passing moment.” He also jokingly told students to go ahead and have another chocolate chip cookie.
Grable was a large man, with a large personality, and a large impact on the community.
Near the end of the vigil, Mount Sinai School Board President Robert Sweeney announced that the Mount Sinai High School building had been officially renamed “The Robert M. Grable Memorial High School.”
Honoring his friend and colleague, assistant principal Dryroff talked about Grable’s athletic career as well.
A picture in the program that night shows him being tagged out on base by Derek Jeter. Grable, in his typical humor, insisted he was safe, although the picture shows otherwise.
“God has called you safe at home,” added Dryroff, his voice breaking at that moment.
Details of Grable’s wake and funeral mass can be found here. Grable left behind three daughters. A scholarship fund has been created for them.To contribute to The Rob Grable Daughters Scholarship Fund, make checks payable to: Mount Sinai Administrators Association, and mail to: Mr. Matt Dyroff c/o Mt. Sinai High School 110 North Country Rd. Mt. Sinai, NY 11766.
Scroll down to see photos from the community vigil. Click box 2 to see them all. Photos by Lon Cohen.