AHS Alumni Gathering GN

George Leonard, left, better known as Georgie Porgie when he was expelled from Attleboro High School for his hair style, and Diane Sousa Cardee, Class of 1965, chat during the Attleboro High School Alumni Association gathering held at the Attleboro Arts Museum Tuesday night. (Staff photo by Tom Maguire)

ATTLEBORO - Efforts to re-energize the high school's alumni association appear to be taking hold with a crowd of at least 150 graduates jamming into the Attleboro Arts Museum at a special event Tuesday night.

The second party of its kind blossomed from a mere 50 last year and drew old timers, as well those who still had their natural hair color - not to mention hair.

One of those who still has a considerable amount of his own hair was George Leonard, better known as Georgie Porgie, who became famous when he was kicked out of the high school in 1964 for refusing to cut his locks, a move that brought the issue to the U.S. Supreme Court.

He was popular with the crowd - but the star of show was the crowd itself, which seemed to signal a resurgence for the association.

Tony Viveiros, chairman of the the association subcommittee that organized the event, said attendance was all he hoped for, and more.

"I'm really floored by the turnout," he said. "And they're all having a great time."

Co-chairwomen Mary Beth Oliver and Tammi Payette said the aim is to invigorate the association and make it more active in the community, with scholarships and service events.

Ralph Arguin, an association committee member, urged all graduates to join in the effort.

"We have the opportunity here this evening to get the Attleboro Alumni Association off the ground and do something for the community and yourselves," he said.

In the fall, the association will join with high school students to rake the yards of residents who no longer can do the chore themselves.

The event has been held for a number of years, but the association hopes to expand it this year.

Among the attendees were Mayor Kevin Dumas, former music instructor Joe Bono, former high school Principal Robert Bray, former Housemaster Ron Struminski and former Superintendent Ted Thibodeau and many others.

Maureen LaValle, a member of the Class of 1954, had praise for the effort.

"I'm really impressed with what they've done," she said.

Leonard - AKA Georgie Porgie - a musician from a young age who played in clubs from Providence to New York City and Florida and had, from time to time, the opportunity to jam with immortal musicians like Jimi Hendrix, was impressed, too, and was glad he came.

"There's no place I'd rather be," he said.

Others were equally happy to see him.

For many he was on the cutting edge of a new generation coming to life in the 1960s.

Leonard was hero to some younger teens like Donna (DaCosta) Johnson from the Class of 1970, who was 12 or 13 when he was kicked out of school.

Johnson said she and her friends reacted to him as they would if they saw the Beatles, who were the rage and famous for their "mop top" hair.

"We all knew about him," she said. "He was ahead of his time. He was the closest thing we had to Beatlemania."

Leonard sued for the right to wear his hair as he pleased, and the case went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court after several years.

The court didn't hear it, but by then it didn't matter because long hair was common and accepted.

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