When Johnny Graves was a freshman, to him Robert Scott was more than president of St. Joseph's Collegiate Institute. Scott became somewhat of a guardian after Graves' brother, Aaron, who was a senior at the school at the time, passed away after a battle with cancer.
"That time of my life was tough ... a 14-year-old kid losing his brother to cancer," said Graves, a 2003 St. Joe's graduate.
Graves shared that Scott would check up on him at school and visit the family at home.
"He knew I had other things going on in my life," Graves said. "He kept an eye on me."
Graves shared his story as hundreds of alumni gathered at the annual St. Joseph Collegiate Institute Lasallian Auction on April 21 at the Buffalo Niagara Convention Center.
They came together to support the school and to honor Scott for his 48 years of service to the school.
"Mr. Scott tried to infuse anyone associated with St. Joe's with the Lasallian charism - a charism of brotherhood, compassion, and care," said Mark Zirnheld, a 1978 graduate.
Scott was hired as a religion teacher at St. Joe's in 1971. Over nearly five decades, he served as a religion and social studies teacher, vice president for students, principal and president. In 2001, Scott earned his Letters of Affiliation, the highest honor bestowed by the Institute of the Brothers of Christian Schools, the religious order that founded St. Joe's in 1861.
Scott instilled in his students a commitment to be the best and to pay attention to the small details, said Adam Van Volkenburg, a 1997 graduate of St. Joe's. Simple things like a belt; Van Volkenburg learned this lesson the hard way when he forgot his belt and was in violation of the school dress code without it.
"I went to the AV room and took a camera strap and wrapped it around my waist like a belt," Van Volkenburg said.
His quick thinking did not win over Scott.
"I still got detention," Van Volkenburg said.
Remembering his belt was not the only lesson he learned from Scott. Van Volkenburg worked in the school office alongside Scott in order to help defray the cost of tuition. Van Volkenburg said he learned the value of hard work under Scott's watch.
"He's extremely committed and has got great vision," Van Volkenburg said, adding that Scott wasn't afraid to make changes where they were needed.
Zirnheld said Scott's tenure has been outstanding, noting that not many people stick with anything as long as he has.
"He has built relationships across classes and generations and communities," Zirnheld said.
To Scott, it was most important for the school to nurture each student's dreams.
"It didn't matter who you were," Scott said. "We created opportunity for every kid."
Scott's last day at the helm will be on June 29. Family is the focus of Scott's retirement. He plans to spend more time with his wife, Michele; two children; two grandchildren; and four brothers.
"We need to spend some time together," he said.
Scott has great confidence in the future of St. Joe's.
"We Catholics are a people of hope," he said. "St. Joe's is in a good position, and I think it will continue to be in a good position."
Graves believes that Scott has left a great legacy of the Lasallian tradition and brought the school where it needs to be.
"He's a very loving guy and has a huge heart," Graves said.