In November 2017, Providence Country Day celebrated the retirement of beloved teacher, coach, and mentor Tom Ossman, who taught math courses and led the football team for nearly five decades at the private school. During that time, he lived at the “Tom Thumb House” at 109 Hope Street. He now enjoys retirement at the Wingate Apartments near Wayland Square.
A passion for teaching was not immediately evident to Ossman, who grew up in Buffalo, New York, and moved to Long Island with his parents during high school. From 10th through 12th grade, he played football, basketball, and baseball for Southside High School. “I never played in a losing football game while I was there,” Ossman muses. “Though we tied a few.”
He went on to play at Harvard, where on November 17, 1951, he set the university’s record for the most rushing touchdowns in a single game, against Brown University – it still stands in Harvard’s official books. After graduating with a BA in economics in 1952, Ossman was drafted into the U.S. Army and moved to Fort Monmouth, New Jersey, where he was selected to become an instructor. Just as he was entering the signal corps, he saw an ad for army football tryouts and joined the team.
“That was pretty good duty, ‘cause all you had to do was play football,” he says, laughing.
Post-army, he worked briefly at Powers Photo Engraving in NYC. “I was a lousy salesman,” he says. “What I wanted to do was coach and teach.” He found a job at the boarding school Hebron Academy in Maine, and in 1969, he followed Hebron assistant headmaster Evan West, who had been made headmaster for Providence Country Day.
“After ten years of dorm duty, I was ready to come down and take the nights off,” Ossman jokes.
Over nearly five decades, Ossman made an impact on Country Day, not just through his teaching and coaching abilities, but with his personality and sense of humor; he enjoyed gardening and would help the school maintenance crew do landscaping on his off-time. He recalls PCD Christmas parties where he was responsible for assigning dining room seating: “I’d play little games, like I’d put all the guys named Jim at the same table.” His favorite course to teach was AP Calculus, which he treated more like coaching “‘cause you’re gonna have the big Harvard-Yale game at the end – the AP exam!”
On November 17, 2017 – exactly 66 years after his record-breaking college game – PCD held a tailgate party for Ossman’s retirement. Around 150 alumni, students, parents, faculty, and staff came to campus to celebrate his legacy, including a few football players from Ossman’s inaugural year at PCD: an undefeated season.
When asked to speak a few words at the event, “I told them I’d rather sing,” Ossman says. “So I sang, ‘You Make Me Feel So Young.’”
“I’ve had an awful lot of fun,” Ossman says. “I couldn’t have thought of a better life.”