The One, The Only Bill Fay

Bill Fay Jr., in his element.

Bill Fay Jr., in his element.

Every now and again in this world you run into a larger than life figure.
Someone whose spirit lights up the room and whose humor, intelligence and warmth make you feel like you’ve known him forever.
Bill Fay is that kind of guy. In fact, he’s the epitome of that kind of man.
Bill is the longtime principal of Banyan Creek Elementary School in Delray Beach. After more than a half century in education he retired this month. There were tears when he announced his intentions and laughter too. Bill is an institution, an original. He has left two generations of kids, teachers and friends richer for having known him.
Bill has earned a lifetime of accolades and hopefully decades to enjoy his family and friends.

While we share a birthday, I always liked to remind him that he was much much older than I was and a Red Sox fan to boot. But somehow that didn’t get in the way of our friendship. His love of children and of Delray Beach was infectious and I enjoyed every moment I spent with Mr. Fay. His aspirations for his students and his teachers were nothing short of creating the warmest, best learning environment possible so that kids could thrive. And they did.
There will be many more principals who serve Banyan Creek in the years and decades to come. But Bill Fay will never be replaced. Nor will be forgotten. The great ones never are and Bill Fay is a great one.
He came to Banyan Creek after a long and distinguished career in Massachusetts.
Some may have approached the job as a victory lap, a chance to stay busy and collect a paycheck after a long career in education.

But Bill approached the position with energy, passion and a strong desire to educate children, mentor young teachers and make veteran teachers even better. He wanted Banyan Creek to be a great school, a safe place that would nurture children and build community. And that’s what it became.
When I started The Education Times newspaper many years ago one of the first things I learned is that you could tell whether a school had a great principal the moment you stepped into the school. If the school was orderly, clean, bright, had art on the walls and smiling well behaved kids you knew they had a great principal.
When you visit Banyan Creek as I did often over the years you could feel the energy, friendliness and love that is Bill Fay’s essence.

His teachers were focused. His parents were–mostly–happy (there are always a few). And the place crackled with laughter and encouragement. Bill Fay was the orchestra leader and set the tone. The culture of that school reflected his magnetic personality and his drive.
Bill is an opinionated guy. That’s what happens when you care and you’ve been around long enough to see some genuinely ridiculous things. He did not suffer fools gladly and while he had respect for hierarchy he did not have much patience for BS especially if the nonsense got in the way of educating his kids.
He had some amazing teachers over the years and he sang their praises. That’s what great leaders do. They give credit to others and they are focused on the mission.
Bill wasn’t just content to build a great school at Banyan he was a champion of other schools in Delray Beach. He was a touchstone for other principals, a leader among leaders and was deeply involved in the city’s efforts to improve its schools.
He had relationships everywhere from School Board members to mayors and commissioners. From district officials to city officials, everyone knew and respected Bill’s knowledge of what was best for kids.
We joked about our affinities. He liked the Red Sox and Pats, I followed the Yankees and Giants. I appreciated his sense of humor but also his deep knowledge of how the system worked or in many cases didn’t. He’s been a resource for all who preceded me and all who followed.
Here’s hoping he enjoys his retirement. And maybe, just maybe he will weigh in now and again because Bill Fay is one of a kind and we need these guys now more than ever.