Editor’s Note: This story has been added to since it was originally posted.
Teachers can leave a strong mark on those they encounter in the world, some teachers more than others. Ric Saborio was one of those teachers. His death Dec. 28 sent reverberations through the East Greenwich community, where he lived and taught, even though he hadn’t taught in nine years. Ric’s teaching career was cut short in 2012, when he was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Surgery and treatment for the tumor caused memory and other cognitive difficulties so a return to the classroom was not possible.
That was a tragedy for all those who had loved working alongside him and for all the children who would never know the magic that was Mr. Saborio. But Ric just kept being Ric – volunteering with cancer patients at Kent Hospital and in the library at Eldredge Elementary, where he last taught (most of his teaching years were spent at Hanaford Elementary); and being a caring and compassionate friend, husband to Gail, and father to Bella.
So, when we got word of Ric’s death, we asked for people to tell us what made him special. The outpouring was immediate and heartfelt. We include remembrances here and invite you to add your own in the comments section. And, here’s a link to a video from 2007-08 meant to show parents what their children would be doing in school that year.
Finding acceptance and help in Mr. Saborio’s class
Mr. Sabario was one of the teachers who saw the best in everyone, and the best in me. I have ADHD, and I struggled throughout school, but Mr. Sabario had special ed. training. He treated me with extra attention. He taught the sixth grade at Hanaford Elementary. For positive reinforcement, he handed out “bug bucks” whenever students completed their homework. At the end of the term, we would have an auction for all kinds of things, candy, small toys, items he had throughout the room. His desk was always filled with knick-knacks. Ric collected every known variety of Pez dispenser. He was a unique kind of guy, as he drove an Volkswagen Beetle. He even had a green mini one on his desk. Every day in class he would give my head/hair a lucky rub. He had even asked if it was okay to do so after the first time. I always was uncomfortable about my Chinese hair, how straight and strong it was, as it would stick up omnidirectional. One day, I put some styling gel in it to give it more “body.” He touched my hair and dramatically recoiled saying “ewww”! The first year after graduating from high school, I went back to see Ric, and he was still teaching. I was already taller than him at this point and we caught up very briefly after he finished class. I will miss him as he was kind, quirky, generous and positive – a man dedicated to the craft of teaching. – Martin Tam
Mr. Saborio was hired as a special education teacher at Hanaford, then switched to sixth grade
Mr. Saborio was hands down the most memorable teacher I had in EG (which says a lot since I had so many wonderful teachers). I was a student in his first class at Hanaford in 1999-2000. I look back fondly on my time in sixth grade with Mr. Saborio and my classmates. It’s hard to put into words just what it meant to be in his class. It was magical. Learning was fun, exciting, an adventure. There was never a dull moment in Mr. Saborio’s class, no matter the subject. We were all active participants in our education and it was hands on, experimental. We learned about world events, debated social justice issues, conducted science experiments, discussed history and researched our ancestors (we got to go to Ellis Island!). We cultivated lifelong friendships. Mr. Saborio kept us on our toes and played jokes on us. He was real. He played basketball with us at recess. He incentivized us with “bug bucks,” which we got to redeem later in the year. I still have the Michael Jordan book he gifted me. My memories of his class are so vivid even after all these years. He created a wonderful learning environment and he supported us. There is no doubt that he lives on in all of his students, that he made us better people as a result of his influence. I feel incredibly grateful to have his handprint on my life. Sending all my love and sympathies to his family, students, and colleagues. – Anna Greeley
Forging an even tighter bond through their shared diagnosis
Mr. Saborio was my sixth grade teacher. He was amazing. I had years of struggling in school and he was the one that got me the help and accommodations that I needed to be successful. I cannot thank him enough for all the hard work and dedication to helping his students. Later in life, we reconnected when he was diagnosed with his brain tumor. I had been diagnosed with a brain tumor when I was 16. Even though I was a former student he made it a point to support me and show me as much love as when I was in his classroom. Once we reconnected after his diagnosis, we spent many a day talking about our shared memory loss, hair loss, and the different “funny” comments people make about brain tumors. I will remember his laugh and sense of humor. He was someone who taught me that it is OK to laugh at yourself and to not take everything so seriously. He always had a positive outlook and I will hold him in my heart. – Noelle Patenaude Johnson
Friends for almost 25 years
I can talk about Ric forever…. Ric was the teacher that you would want your own children to have as their educator. Ric truly appreciated every single day that he walked this earth; he enjoyed meeting new people, learning something new each day, and had an incredible love of music and arts in general. He saw the good in everyone, even when things seemed to point in the other direction. Ric was fiercely devoted to his family and to his friends, and he had the most eclectic group of friends compared to anyone that I have ever met. He honored and respected diversity; he was a true champion for inclusion and advocate for his students (and all people). I feel blessed and am forever grateful that he was a part of my life for almost 25 years. – Dom Giusti, principal of Meadowbrook Farms Elementary and former colleague of Ric’s. Here’s a video clip from Dom’s comments about Ric upon his retirement: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=157Q10Gdd5A
Playing tricks on each other, inspiring each other, making each other laugh
He was just one in a million. He had the best outlook on life. He absolutely loved teaching. He had gotten into it a little later in life and was just so happy to be there – he poured his heart and soul into it. He made teaching fun every single day.
He would make the most fabulous lunches. You’ve got 25 minutes max for lunch during the school day. He would come in with a frying pan, butter, spatula, he would cook up a steak sandwich or a cheeseburger and we would all be drooling. He would get it all done and be back in class in time for the start of the afternoon.
When he got sick, I had also gotten sick (with depression). The two of us were out of work and we couldn’t remember a thing. We would get lost going to lunch. We spent so much time together and got closer. Even when he got sick, he just loved life. He just took it in stride. He got a vanity plate [for that beloved Beetle] that said “Forget” because he couldn’t remember anything! I never got together with him and didn’t wind up laughing, no matter what. I’m so glad that I knew him and I got to be his friend. – Pam St. Ours Testoni taught and had a blast with Ric at Hanaford.
A student of Ric’s at Hanaford and is now a teacher herself
I had Mr. Saborio in sixth grade at Hanaford Elementary School, and now interestingly enough, I am a fifth grade teacher in his former classroom at Eldredge Elementary School.
Mr. Saborio was by far the most passionate, kind, and patient man and teacher I had ever met. One detail I remember vividly was when I was his sixth grade student, he and I would have weekly, in-depth discussions about “American Idol” when it was airing. Although these conversations would seem minor to some, this interaction was something I looked forward to every week! He made me feel important, and like my opinion mattered, and that is something truly special.
Prior to the pandemic, Mr. Saborio would come into my class at Eldredge each year to help with the Toothpick Bridge Construction Project, as well as the annual “Diaper Debate” we would have. These are two projects that Mr. Saborio started as a teacher in East Greenwich, and we will most certainly be carrying them on. His passion and kind interactions with students was always something I would observe and admire about him. He inspired me as well as some of my peers from East Greenwich to pursue teaching.
I cannot say enough of how amazing of a man and teacher he was. I send his family all of my sincerest condolences. – Devon Iannuccilli Chavez, a fifth grade teacher at Eldredge Elementary
Teacher, principal, friend
Ric was a wonderful person. I was lucky enough to have known him for about 20 years. We were both teaching sixth grade and even though I was at Eldredge and he was at Hanaford, we would have meetings with both schools before students transitioned over to what was the old Jr. High. I also worked with him at Hanaford when I was the principal there and was then fortunate to be his teaching partner when I returned to teaching in the 2011-12 school year. We both taught grade 5 at Eldredge that year. Ric was one of those teachers that arrived to school early, stayed late, put hours into lesson plans, loved the kids, worked hard and had fun doing what he loved the most – teaching. He was an outstanding teacher! He always went the extra mile for his students and he was a collaborative teacher. We spent so much time before and after school planning lessons together. He made me a better teacher. It was so nice having him next door to me . . . I’ll always remember us popping into each other’s classrooms. He would always play such great music after school . . . and we laughed a lot. He brought light, laughter, and enthusiasm to our work. Being a great teacher was so important to him. He even continued to volunteer at school and came into my classroom at times, even after he officially retired. He became a wonderful friend over the years and I was so lucky to keep in touch with him. I will miss him tremendously. – Chris Uhrin, teacher at Eldredge
‘Most memorable teacher’
I had him as my 6th grade teacher in his very first year at Hanaford Elementary and to this day he is my most memorable teacher. That was 1999. He loved all the weird faces I made and would have me stand in front of the class making faces in exchange for “bug bucks” (currency for being awesome students that we could exchange for toys or candy). He loved the color green and his Volkswagen Beetle (also green). He had all these toys on his desk and such a quirky always-positive attitude. I’ll never forget him. Students will be missing out on an amazing and unforgettable mentor. He had such an impact on me and my family. My younger brother Nicholas and our youngest sister Marissa all had him as their teacher after me and we really got to know and love him. I’m so sorry for this loss and hope his family and close friends know what an impact he had on his students and community. I’m very lucky to be where I am in life, and I know he had something to do with my success. – Michaella E. Marzullo, MS, PA-C
Colleague at both Hanaford and Eldredge
Ric and I worked together at Hanaford for nine years and we both came over to Eldredge the same year, in August 2011. He was wonderful to collaborate with and we have remained friends. In January 2019 he asked if I could use help in the library and of course I said yes! He would come in once or twice a week to work with the fifth graders. He had lost the ability to alphabetize or shelf items, but he never lost the ability to connect with kids. With his calm yet fun demeanor, he was a hit! He would sometimes have to miss a week or more because of illness or appointments and the kids would want to know where he was.
He also went into the fifth grade classes to assist the current teachers with the breaking of the bridges project, one that he helped create and which continues to this day. Additionally he mentored a boy that year who was going through a difficult time. He was so happy to still be involved in teaching in any way and to just be around people. He continued volunteering with me right up until COVID hit and then it wasn’t possible anymore which saddened both of us. – Peggy Chace, library media specialist at Eldredge
Suddenly school didn’t seem terrible
I always remember that he was one of my favorite teachers. I had so many wonderful teachers, but he stood out among them all. It’s really hard to pick a favorite moment with him; every single day was special. I remember the process of writing and performing our class play, something his class did every year. It was our responsibility as a class to come up with each scene. He helped us channel our creativity and ideas into something unique that we all loved being a part of. Everyone worked together to write our own magic act, choreograph our own dance to Aretha Franklin’s “Respect,” and act out a scene from Sponge Bob, all to demonstrate the theme of “Character Counts.”
I didn’t have a great experience the year before and I didn’t always enjoy going to school. He turned that around for me. He always joked around with us, but he also truly cared. He had the most interesting stories and used his own experiences to help us learn. I feel so lucky to have been one of his students. He made every day memorable in one way or another. His impact on me was profound, and has stayed with me far beyond his sixth grade classroom. – Alexandra Hatch
May he rest easily and groovily
I was in the last fourth grade class of his at Hanaford Elementary School in East Greenwich. His PEZ collection, vintage toys, and bright graphic posters drew me in like a kid in a candy store. What made him such a significant teacher was his ability to connect to us. As a mid-40 year old man, it’s not an easily established skill being able to relate to a 10-year old student. However, he always found a way. Whether it was learning about electricity through building tiny model houses, to racing cars made out of K’nex. Ric always knew how to make sure the class was engaged, learning, but most of all, having fun. He was a light in this community. When he fell ill, so did our town. We did not only lose an educator in this community, we lost a bright and loving soul. May he rest easily and groovily. I hope wherever he might be, he has his little orange VW bug with him. – Justin Riccio