James Creegan: A Beloved Substitute and Singer

The student body had incredible, unforgettable experiences with Mr. Creegan, a singing substitute. To commemorate his passing, here is what the students have to say.

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James (Jimmy) Creegan, a beloved substitute teacher at Stuyvesant High School, passed away after a battle with brain cancer on November 23, 2023, at the age of 76. He will be greatly missed by the student body and administration alike. Creegan was renowned in Stuyvesant as the substitute teacher who sang the attendance roster. He spread joy, kindness, and music. The profound impact he made will not be forgotten.

Stuyvesant students remember Creegan fondly and are devastated over his passing, as illustrated by the outpour of grief and shock in reaction to a Facebook post recognizing his death. “I was genuinely very sad when I found out he died. Although I didn’t really know him at all, I’m going to miss him,” sophomore Sophie Tulovsky said. “Anytime I walked into a classroom and saw him I was very excited. […] He was just a sweetheart,” she added. Tulovsky had Creegan as a substitute multiple times in her freshman year, and she looked forward to his kind personality and wonderful singing. Though substitute teachers only interact with students for a short time, Creegan managed to brighten their days. 

Creegan’s musical talent granted him a strong authoritative presence in the classroom. Junior Imene Zarouri had Creegan as a substitute for Music Appreciation, a class she noticed that some students did not commit to. “A lot of students didn't take [the class] seriously and got into the habit of putting on their AirPods and taking out their laptops to finish [other] work during class,” Zarouri recalled. However, the moment Creegan began to sing, the class environment transformed. “[Creegan] captured everyone's attention. He first introduced himself to us and then began singing an English song from his youth in a deep voice. I'll never forget those two minutes of silence where the class was completely focused on Mr. Creegan's singing,” Zarouri described. 

The impression Creegan left on the student body was almost universally positive, which contributed to his fame at Stuyvesant. “The energy he brought to the class was unforgettable, so I told all my friends about it right after the period ended. They all immediately knew who I was talking about and shared their own stories about Mr. Creegan,” junior Samantha Ruinsky remembered.

Even past graduation, Creegan maintained a lasting impression on many Stuyvesant students, including Hannah Riegel (‘23). “[He was] a sort of Stuy legend,” Riegel said. “Sometimes subs are disliked because kids just want to goof off when their teachers aren’t there, but [Creegan] had a way of gathering everyone’s attention in a pleasant, nice way.”

Beyond students, Creegan touched the hearts of his fellow teachers. He was part of a close-knit group of substitute teachers who ate lunch together. Narkiz Agish, a fellow substitute teacher, spoke fondly of their friendship. “We really enjoyed our lunches together. He loved the chocolate milk,” Agish recalled. “He loved the New York Times paper version. [...] He would sit there with his big newspaper, with his wonderful Irish accent, and he would recite poems [to us],” she said. Creegan had a special love for Chinese food; after his passing, his loved ones from all over met to celebrate his remarkable life at a Chinese restaurant—a fitting goodbye to a beloved and well-respected friend.

Creegan nurtured multiple passions throughout his life, including film and poetry. Deidre Donovan, a fellow substitute teacher, shared her memories of Creegan’s intellectual quality. “[Creegan] was just very good company and he was extremely knowledgeable. [...] He would give you a very intelligent interpretation of [any film]. He was very up-to-date on what was going on in our world. So having a conversation with Mr. Creegan was always a pleasure,” Donovan described. In particular, she recalled his fondness for Emily Dickinson and Scottish poetry. 

Donovan also looked back on Creegan’s kindness during a brutal rainstorm. “[Creegan] immediately offered his umbrella to get me home, [even though] he would get wet,” Donovan said. Creegan was a compassionate friend, ready to help everyone around him. “I miss him. He was just a good friend, a wonderful colleague, and he cannot be replaced,” Donavan expressed.

Creegan left a lasting impact outside of Stuyvesant as well. As a passionate Marxist, he formed a strong community by discussing politics with peers of like-minded and opposing stances. In an obituary by Alex Steiner in the Weekly Worker, Steiner—a good friend of Creegan’s who worked with him on various educational and political projects—elaborated on Creegan’s communist history. “Jim was a red-diaper baby, born on June 27, 1947. Unlike many baby boomers, he did not rebel against his parents but learned from them. Both his parents were in the Communist Party in the 1930s and 1940s,” Steiner wrote. Creegan also explored Maoism and Trotskyism in his youth. 

Steiner went on to discuss how Creegan applied his political background. “After graduating college in 1969, Jim returned to his hometown, Philadelphia. He remained there for two years during which he became active in the local chapter of the New American Movement (NAM),” Steiner wrote. NAM was a congregation of New Left refugees trying to develop their political identities. Creegan then went on to work for The Village Voice, a news and culture publication based in New York City.

After leaving The Village Voice in 2002, Creegan decided to explore his other talents in writing and educating. “However as much as Jim enjoyed teaching, the earnings of a substitute teacher in the New York public school system are quite meager and the benefits even worse. But the job suited Jim insofar as he often had the afternoons free to read or write,” Steiner wrote. It was during this time that Creegan began to work at the Weekly Worker, a UK-based newspaper. “Jim’s oeuvre was not confined to strictly political essays, which he did masterfully enough, but also touched on history and culture,” Steiner described. Creegan was multitalented and led a fascinating life in the realms of journalism and politics.

Creegan was known as “The Singing Substitute,” but his impact on the Stuyvesant community—and beyond—reflects much more than that title. Creegan was a remarkable individual who led a fascinating and fulfilling life, all while improving the lives of those around him. He created a welcoming environment, built long-lasting friendships, and was a bright spot in the lives of many. Stuyvesant students are devastated by his passing, and we hope that his legacy will continue to live on.