Paul Rooney – a well-regarded secondary school teacher and instructor to new generations of teachers – died at home in Davis, California, after a long illness on October 23, 2022. He was 65.
Paul taught English, Social Studies, and Physical Education to junior high school students in Davis, and English to high school students in San Diego for 35 years. He contributed to the development of his profession by pursuing a doctorate in Education at UC Davis that focused on methods to improve student writing performance.
Known for his irreverent and entertaining approach to teaching – even affectionately called “Dr. Feel Good” by UC Davis graduate students who appreciated his humor – Paul was serious about public education to set young people on a path to independence and success. He once said: “I know I would do my job for free because I don’t think about the money when I do it.”
Paul made complex literature accessible and alive for students – you could ask him any question about one of Shakespeare’s plays and he could often name the act, character and motivation that was relevant. When he chose to teach Physical Education to “have some fun” in his final teaching years, Paul made everything from the one-mile run to team sports entertaining for his students.
At his core Paul was a devoted family man and father to daughters Erin and Emily. He was an active participant in each of their lives, often going along with whatever they liked to do. He was a homebody but he liked his road trips to see family and friends and get precious beach time in Manhattan Beach and Del Mar – often with the “Les Miserables” soundtrack playing in the background on the drive south, explaining to Erin and Emily the story the songs were telling.
He also loved plays, books, movies and sports and was devoted to his L.A. Lakers, Dodgers and Rams.
What remained constant for him, even during declining health, was his sharp wit and a sense of optimism.
Paul Anthony Rooney was born in Los Angeles on February 24, 1957. His formative years were in Manhattan Beach with parents George Robert and Florence (Scanlan) Rooney and sisters Joan, Karen, Mary and Ellen. He later moved to San Diego for college and became a teacher. Later he met and married Kerin Kelleher in Solana Beach California, and welcomed their first child, Erin in 1991. The family moved to Davis for Paul to pursue his educational scholarship at UC Davis, and Emily was born in 1993. Paul and Kerin have been part of the Davis public education community for over 30 years and have many close ties to peers and friends through their work and family life.
Paul is survived by his spouse Kerin Kelleher; daughters Erin and Emily Rooney, and Erin’s spouse Brent Watson; his mother and four sisters and brother-in-law Tom; and many sisters- and brothers-in-law and nieces and nephews.
Among his educational achievements: Paul received a bachelor’s in Journalism and a master’s in English Education from San Diego State University. He completed his doctorate in Education at UC Davis in 1998, with a dissertation: “Improving Rewriting Through Direct Instruction: An Integrated Process-Oriented Approach.”
In addition to his decades-long career with the Davis Joint Unified School District, Paul was a graduate lecturer at the schools of education at UC Davis, California State University (CSU) Sacramento and CSU Sonoma.
Paul was certified in California to teach English, Physical Education, Language Development, Gifted Education and Adult Education. At Oliver Wendell Holmes Junior High School, Paul was the chairperson of the English Department and Physical Education Department for many years.
In an article Paul wrote called “The Art and Science of Teaching”, he said: “A teacher is not so much a mountain that students come to climb, but a guide, who may or may not have climbed that mountain, but has at least climbed other mountains and knows the joys and hardships of the journey. Each trip up the mountain and each September bring new challenges to test what we know and how we can communicate it. Our science makes us want to learn more, and our art gives us the ability to share it with others.”
There will be a memorial mass for Paul at St. James Catholic Church on November 12 at 11:00 a.m.
In lieu of flowers the family welcomes donations to the UC Davis Mind Institute at give.ucdavis.edu/MIND