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Former NEA President Willard McGuire Passes Away at the Age of 79

He never forgot those he served—public school children and educators

WASHINGTON - February 05, 2008 -

Willard McGuire, a devoted children's advocate who used the power and influence of NEA members to capture the attention of lawmakers and improve public education, passed away at his home in Shoreview, Minn., on Saturday.  He was 79.

After serving five years as NEA vice president, McGuire was elected NEA president in 1979.  During his campaign speech, he vowed to make sure teachers' voices were heard across the land and that those elected officials who did not meet their responsibility to public school children would be held accountable.


"Let it be understood by those who propose and support restrictive spending legislation, that teachers of this nation will vote to unseat them," declared McGuire at NEA's 1979 Representative Assembly in Detroit, Mich.  "Let it be understood by those who seem willing to abdicate their responsibility for funding education that the teachers of this nation will hold them accountable."

McGuire, who was elected NEA president at the age of 51, served two two-year terms.  During his tenure in office—which ended in 1983—President Jimmy Carter elevated the Department of Education to cabinet status. 

Friends remember McGuire as a humble man who was extremely proud to be a classroom teacher.  After completing his duties as NEA president, McGuire took a 50 percent pay cut to return to the classroom in Minnesota.

NEA President Reg Weaver, who was serving in a leadership role with the Illinois Education Association during McGuire's terms as NEA president, called him a "fair man" who tried to move the Association's agenda forward based on members' concerns. Weaver adds that some of those concerns—like improving educator  pay, making sure our public schools are adequately funded, the misuse of standardized tests, and "teacher burnout," which results in significant numbers of educators leaving the classroom—are still issues today, more than 20 years later. 

"One of the ways we show our affection and appreciation for Willard—and what he meant to this Association—is by continuing to fight for those things he wanted for educators," said Weaver.  “Willard McGuire worked tirelessly to make sure children, educators and our public schools got the resources needed to be successful.  In honor of Willard and others who have dedicated their lives to children, we are proud to continue this mission."

McGuire is survived by his wife, Helen, their son and two daughters and many grandchildren and great-grandchildren.


The National Education Association is the nation’s largest professional employee organization, representing 3.2 million elementary and secondary teachers, higher education faculty, education support professionals, school administrators, retired educators and students preparing to become teachers.


Contact: Brian Washington  (202) 822-7823