concern was giving students the best education possible. But they
also remembered his humorous side, his penchant for fishing and
poker, and a mind that enabled him to remember the names, jobs and
even personal problems of many of his hundreds of employees.
Those who knew and worked with Nicoll said he was a demanding boss
with high expectations of his employees.
Some people were put off by his stern demeanor, and right before
he retired, he was castigated by some parents and school employees
after teacher layoffs and an embezzlement scandal involving the
district's top financial officer.
But many on Saturday remembered Nicoll as a joker, a fun-loving
man who was unflinchingly loyal to his employees in public, though
he'd tell them privately when he thought they'd messed up.
"He was known as being brusque, difficult, aloof -- those were all
wrong," said Forrest Werner, vice-president of the Newport-Mesa
Schools Foundation and a former school board member. "That was his
front. The real man was intelligent, affable and a team player."
As a young man, Nicoll loved cars, he was always well-dressed, and
he was known throughout his life for his love of a good card game.
"Outside of education we had a blast," remembered Norman Loats,
who retired in 1989 after working under Nicoll as deputy
superintendent. "We had what we called a prayer group, and the only
thing we prayed for was a royal flush."
But what most remembered was his love of education. Even after he
retired from Newport-Mesa, he couldn't stay away from the field, so
he took a teaching post at National University, and he wrote two
books about being a superintendent and school administrator.
Several people said Nicoll would have a lasting effect on their
lives, and one of those was Ken Hall, who had help from Nicoll in
launching a school consulting company 30 years ago.
Hall noticed the atmosphere Saturday wasn't like a typical
"This kind of seemed like an education reunion," he said. "This
room is John's legacy because John has been the mentor and the
teacher to so many of you."
* ALICIA ROBINSON covers government and politics. Contact her at
(714) 966-4626 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.