It was life's larger questions that captivated James McPartlin.
A Syosset High School English teacher for 24 years, his engaging teaching style included a penchant for taking students to watch the morning sunrise and re-enacting scenes from the 1943 novella, "The Little Prince."
He died July 31 at age 83 of congestive heart failure in a Port Washington hospice.
Teens from many different religious denominations once crowded into a small room at St. Edward The Confessor School in Syosset to discuss spirituality with McPartlin, who taught catechism at the Roman Catholic school in the 1970s.
"When the kids found out about it, you know, the word spread and his class grew, and they would just all cram into this closet and discuss the big questions of life," said Jayne Ann McPartlin, of Syosset, his wife of 43 years and a former student.
Born Jan. 28, 1929, to James and Elizabeth McPartlin, McPartlin grew up in Mineola and attended Corpus Christi School in Mineola and Bishop Loughlin High School in Brooklyn. After graduation, he served two tours as a Marine in the Korean War.
Jim, as friends called him, came home in 1955 and followed his father's path, working for five years as a Wall Street order clerk. With financial assistance from the G.I. Bill, McPartlin also took night courses at Hofstra University.
Halfway through his undergraduate studies in English, he had a revelation, his wife said.
Her husband had decided to become an English teacher and the school's dean, Hyman Lichenstein, helped him pursue his dream, Jayne McPartlin said. "Teaching was a tremendous part of my husband's life."
While a teacher at Syosset High School from 1960 to 1984, McPartlin "made books come alive," said former student Jim Klurfeld, a Stony Brook visiting professor and former Newsday editorial pages editor.
"You know that film, 'Dead Poets Society'?" son Peter of Santa Monica, Calif., said. "Well, a lot of people thought that was based on my dad. Standing on desks and stuff, that was him. He was energetic, interactive."
Former Syosset High teacher Gus Franza met Jim when he began teaching, and said Jim's love of storytelling made him stand out as a teacher. "The Old Irish gift for gab, that's what he had," Franza, of Moriches, said. "Except it wasn't really gab, it was pure storytelling. . . . And of course the kids loved him."
He kept in touch with students after he retired, his wife said. "He had a great belief in the future and he saw students as carrying things forward."
McPartlin is predeceased by his first wife, Dolores Horan McPartlin, and brothers Jack, Gerald and Joseph. In addition to his wife and son, he is survived by a brother, Richard of Valley Stream; daughters Elizabeth Muller of Ridge, Siobhan DiZio of St. Paul, Minn., Deirdre McPartlin of Keene, N.H; and sons James McPartlin of West Sand Lake, Fla., and Timothy McPartlin of Staten Island.
A funeral Mass was celebrated, followed by cremation last weekend.