GONZAGA PHOTO BY CHRISTIAN FORTE Dr. John Warman piloted more than 350 musical productions from the piano pit at the theater at Gonzaga College High School in his nearly 50 years teaching at the all-boys’ 	Jesuit high school in Washington. He died at the desk in his classroom on Aug. 25.
GONZAGA PHOTO BY CHRISTIAN FORTE Dr. John Warman piloted more than 350 musical productions from the piano pit at the theater at Gonzaga College High School in his nearly 50 years teaching at the all-boys’ Jesuit high school in Washington. He died at the desk in his classroom on Aug. 25.

For nearly 50 years, the opening of each musical at Gonzaga College High School was itself a show-stopper.

Suddenly a spotlight shined on the side of the darkened stage, and Dr. John C. Warman appeared from the wings, smiling and walking confidently past the curtain, dressed in a tuxedo or his ever-present suit and tie, and then settled in the piano pit. From that spot, the virtuoso pianist piloted more than 350 performances, playing entire Broadway musical scores without sheet music – by heart and with passion, the same way he was known to conduct Latin and Greek classes as  chairman of the school’s classics department.

“I’m a teacher,” Dr. Warman said in a 1993 interview, explaining his role in the classroom, and as the musical director, and often the producer and director, of Gonzaga’s performances.

Each year, he made about four pilgrimages to Broadway, to scout out musicals for the generations of high school boys and girls who performed in the Gonzaga Dramatic Association’s productions at the all-boys Jesuit high school near Washington’s Union Station. “I don’t want it to be a high school play, I want it to be a Broadway show!” he said.

Gonzaga’s Theatre, which opened in 1896 and is the oldest continually running theater in Washington was, in Dr. Warman’s words, “sacred space” to him, and when it was renovated three years ago, the stage was named in his honor.

On Sept. 1, a standing-room crowd of the Gonzaga community – including graduates and current students who took his classes or performed in his musicals – gathered at St. Aloysius Gonzaga Catholic Church in Washington, for Dr. Warman’s Mass of Christian Burial. The veteran of 48 years of teaching at Gonzaga – his alma mater – died on Aug. 25 of an apparent heart attack at the age of 75. He was found unresponsive at his desk in his classroom at the beginning of first period.

In a letter to the Gonzaga community,     Jesuit Father Stephen Planning, Gonzaga’s president, wrote, “Doc lived his whole life in service to Gonzaga and, especially, to its students. God also granted him the final grace of dying doing what he loved, seated at his desk, in a suit as always, ready to teach the students he cherished so deeply.”

The honorary pallbearers at the Funeral Mass included Dr. Warman’s classmates from Gonzaga’s class of 1957, and the offertory gifts were brought to the altar by representatives of the Gonzaga Dramatic Association. Gonzaga’s choral group, the Eye Street Boys, sang at the Mass.

In his homily, Father Planning noted that Dr. Warman epitomized the school’s motto and its goal for the young men educated there. “Doc was indeed the consummate Gonzaga ‘man for others,’” he said.

The Gospel at the Mass quoted Jesus describing the greatest love as being the willingness to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. Such love does not always unfold in a single dramatic action, but sometimes “can be done slowly and steadily over the course of life,” said Father Planning. That, he said, is what Dr. Warman did, sharing his musical and teaching gifts to help people become closer to God and each other, and helping “countless young men and women to be brave and bold. Doc did indeed lay down his life for his friends, and we were lucky enough to be his friends.”

After Communion, tributes were offered to Dr. Warman, including by Ra’Mond Jamar Shephard Hines, a member of Gonzaga’s class of 2014, who said his Latin and Greek teacher “changed my life forever,” as a teacher and as a friend. “Latin and Greek flowed from his tongue like poetry,” he said.

William J. Wilson Jr., a longtime Gonzaga faculty member who serves as a counselor at the school, praised Dr. Warman for his role in helping the Gonzaga musicals become one of the school’s “crown jewels.” Wilson said his fellow educator’s spirit and faith played a pivotal role as Gonzaga endured a challenging period of declining enrollment in the late 1960s and early 1970s and continued in its location in Washington, where it is thriving today.

He also noted how his colleague became known for singing the National Anthem quickly and well before countless Gonzaga basketball games, and also for helping lead cheers at pep rallies against Gonzaga’s archrival, St. John’s College High School.

Wilson said Dr. Warman was a man who could be both reverent and irreverent, and classical and modern, and who over his nearly five decades of teaching at Gonzaga was known to have only missed a day of class – for his mother’s funeral. As Gonzaga’s classics teacher and as its drama program’s musical director, Dr. Warman was “an example of what’s possible when you put your whole heart into something you love,” Wilson said.

Dr. Francis Warman began his tribute to his older brother by playing the piano and leading the congregation in singing “Amazing Grace.”

Noting his brother’s habit of stepping outside for a smoke before he playing the organ for Mass, Francis Warman joked, “John is not here for the moment. He stepped out for a cigarette.”

Speaking of his brother’s upbeat personality, Francis Warman said he was “genuinely happy from the moment he was born.”

John Warman, he added, started playing the piano when he was in diapers. “He sat down at the keyboards and owned them,” he said, noting that their mother sang his older brother Broadway show music for lullabies. “He was playing Bach and Beethoven by age 10.”

Dr. Francis Warman – who is a psychologist – also explained the origin of his brother’s love for Latin, noting that he began serving as an altar boy at the age of 7, when Masses were in Latin. “He was speaking Latin at age 7 and never stopped,” he said.

John Warman was born in Washington in 1939 – “a war baby who became a Warman,” his brother joked – and was valedictorian of his graduating classes at Sacred Heart School and then at Gonzaga, where he was also named as his class’s best musician. After earning a degree at Georgetown University, graduate studies in Toronto and working for a year at a piano bar in a Washington hotel, John Warman joined Gonzaga’s faculty in 1967 as a Latin and Greek teacher and became chairman of the school’s classics department three years later. In 1986, Georgetown presented him with an honorary doctorate in recognition of the impact he had on so many Gonzaga graduates, and from that point, he was known to the school community as “Dr. Warman” or just “Doc.” In 2013, he received the St. Aloysius Medal for dedication to Gonzaga.

After the Mass, Gonzaga students and faculty members reflected on Dr. Warman’s influence on their lives.

Devin Stanton, a member of Gonzaga’s class of 2017, said Dr. Warman not only taught him Latin, but taught him about “becoming a man,” and “to treat everyone with respect, and to love everybody.”

Several noted what a great storyteller that Dr. Warman was in the classroom. Another of his Latin students, Connor Joransen of the class of 2017, said, “He was passionate about everything he did. He respected me as a man, not a kid. He showed everyone respect.”

Peter Marcou, a member of Gonzaga’s class of 2016, noted that as a young boy, he came to see his older brothers perform in Gonzaga’s musicals, and he even got Dr. Warman’s autograph after one performance, after watching him play in the piano pit. At Gonzaga, Marcou performed in “42nd Street” and “Fiddler on the Roof” under Dr. Warman’s musical direction. “He taught me how to be loud and to be myself on stage, and how to perform to the audience. I really am thankful for that,” Marcou said.

Like generations of Gonzaga graduates who performed on the stage or assisted in the crew, Dr. Warman’s name was painted in graffiti on the back wall, with his year of graduation. Some graduates became movie actors or stage performers, and while most went on to a variety of other professions, including doctors, engineers and lawyers, they all gained confidence from singing on Gonzaga’s stage. He once said, “There’s something very special about a high school play, the sheer enthusiasm of young people that I think can be even more exciting and entertaining than slick professionalism.”

Before graduating from Gonzaga in 1986, Paul Buckley performed in several productions led by Dr. Warman, including “Damn Yankees” and “Annie.” Now Buckley teaches math at Gonzaga and runs the theater program there.

“He loved being here. He loved teaching here… He bled purple,” Buckley said of his friend and mentor. Under Dr. Warman’s direction, the musicals became “a centerpiece” of the school year. “They were such a spectacle… he was at the forefront of that… He loved to see them perform and get applause.”

Dr. Warman, he added, “was the heart of the theater.” This year, the show will go on there, as Gonzaga students perform “Arsenic and Old Lace” and “Godspell” this fall and “Hairspray” next spring on the Warman Stage. “It (our theater) has been around 120 years, and it’ll keep going,” said Buckley.

At the Funeral Mass, Father Planning noted that Dr. Warman never married or had children of his own, but “the Gonzaga community was his one true love,” and he added that St. Aloysius Church was filled on that day with the teacher’s “sons and daughters, and his brothers and sisters.”

John Warman’s survivors include his brother; two nieces; the many Gonzaga students he taught in the classroom and on stage; the audiences who heard him play at Gonzaga’s productions; his fellow Gonzaga faculty and staff members; and the congregations at the three Washington Catholic churches for whom he faithfully played the organ at Masses and prayer services for five decades (see sidebar story).

In a tribute to Dr. Warman on Gonzaga’s website, Father Planning expressed thanks to him “for teaching us, for entertaining us, and for loving us so well.”

Then the school’s president closed with a Latin phrase that the classics teacher would have appreciated – Atque in perpetuum frater ave atque vale – “And forever, brother, hail and farewell.”