By Bruce A. Smith
I received an invitation to my high school’s 50th Reunion this month—the same time our most famous alumnus got fired in disgrace from his job at Fox News. Yup, Bill O’Reilly and I are former classmates, Chaminade High School, Class of 1967.
Bill was just as big a jerk then as he is now, except it seems that he has expanded his behaviors to include terrorizing women. But he scared me fifty years ago in school, too.
I didn’t know Bill very well then—we were never friends—but he did cast a large shadow. In our junior and senior years, Chaminade, a private, all-boys Catholic school for really smart and ambitious fellows, made an adjustment in teaching style that brought him to my attention. Initially very strict and formal, our school began to implement a more Socratic method of teaching, and that meant there were more open-ended discussions in the classroom on topics of the day. One English teacher spent the first ten minutes of every class reading to us from the New York Times, usually the Russel Baker op-ed piece. Another teacher, TJ Doyle, even had us turn our desks towards the center of the room to form a kind of circular debating hall, where we would argue on themes such as the Vietnam War or the nature of God.
TJ was my favorite teacher, and I thrived in his classes. By senior year he often gave me passes to skip the boring classes of other teachers and join him and other selected students in advanced discussions groups. These gatherings were extraordinary and very exciting. They even morphed into field trips to New York City to meet TJ’s colleagues who were involved in social action activities, such as at the Catholic Worker Center or the International Youth Hostel.
Some of these expanded discussions happened in combined classroom settings, and that is when I saw Bill O’Reilly in action. He was a fringe element, but loud. His perspectives were not mainstream with the rest of the student body, and I was surprised to hear how exceptionally conservative and strident they were. It was bizarre seeing a young man during the height of the 1960s cultural revolution sound like he was living and thinking in the 1930s. In fact, some of Bill’s side-kicks, one fellow in particular named McMahon-Somebody, sounded like a neo-Nazi, and I remember him declaring that Adolph Hitler had accomplished a lot of good for Germany before he destroyed his country and much of Europe.
The listeners of this spiel were aghast, and Bill didn’t repudiate it as I recall. But his own comments often seemed as if he was in his own world, one filled with unreasonable fears and strife.
I don’t remember any of his specific pronouncements, but I do remember talking about him to my mother at the dinner table, and her response has stayed with me all my life: “That boy can’t see the forest for the trees.”
Now, I’m debating with myself if I should return to Chaminade for my 50th. I’m not sure if Bill would attend, and I’m not sure if I would want to talk with him or wade through the throng that is sure to surround him. But I’ve always wanted to ask him how he thinks he ended up being the person that he is. I don’t want to argue with him about anything for that would certainly seems to be a waste of time, but asking Bill O’Reilly to comment on how he became the real Bill O’Reilly might be worthwhile.
I’d also like to ask him and my other alums about sexual predators at Chaminade. The former President of Chaminade, Father James Williams, is currently being investigated on charges of sexually assaulting students during his administration from 1999 until 2011, and the Associated Press reported in 2016 that Williams is believed to be hiding in the Vatican to avoid capture and extradition back to the United States. Here, he would most certainly face stiff interrogation from the Nassau County DA’s office, given the current political climate surrounding these issues.
But Bill O’Reilly did not investigate or report these developments, and the New York Times didn’t either, which is a greater tragedy in my view. The alums of Chaminade pepper many levels of law enforcement and politics on Long Island—such as the current and past Nassau County Executives—and I suspect they don’t have the cajones to go up against the Church and their School.
But I do.
Editor’s Note: This story, along with selected pieces from the Campfire Tales and Stories from the Journey are being published in a large tract called: Stories from my Life, scheduled for release this summer.