ADAMS TWP — A blue and gold ribbon draped across an empty chair at the Mars School Board meeting Tuesday night seemed an appropriate tribute to a man who dedicated the latter part of his life to the school district. Ross McConnell, 70, died May 27 of a lingering illness. McConnell came on the school board in 2008. He was one of the original members of the Mars Planet Foundation board of directors, and he was a bus driver for A.J. Myers and Sons since 2005. School board President Dayle Ferguson repeated the words she shared June 1 at McConnell’s funeral, where she spoke. Ferguson called her colleague a strong leader, a principled advocate, a deep thinker and worrier, a trusted colleague, a fine gentleman and a true friend. She said Mars students were always his first priority, whether he was driving them to school or making board decisions. “He cared about ‘his’ kids,” Ferguson said, “their safety, their education and their struggles. They knew ‘Mr. Ross’ was there for them.” She mentioned McConnell’s self-proclaimed “old man” status on the school board, and his seasoned perspectives that were grounded in truth, faith and tradition. “Ross reminded us about the value of simplicity, the rewards of hard work, and the importance of doing the right things for the right reasons, even when it’s really hard,” an emotional Ferguson said. Board member Rita Dorsch, who had known McConnell for 30 years, said he loved to have discussions over coffee, and recounted a story when she ran into McConnell in Mars. Dorsch said McConnell invited her to a restaurant for one of those caffeine-fueled talks, and as they entered the diner, she noticed McConnell giving hand signals to the waitresses. A short time later, two Mars High School students approached their table and said “Mr. Ross, thank you for buying our breakfast.” “Ross said, ‘Well are you guys behaving yourselves?’ and when they said yes, Ross said ‘Well that’s all the thanks I need,’” Dorsch said. Board member Bonnie Weaver, who is the president of the Mars Planet Foundation, recalled that McConnell was the first person to volunteer to be on the foundation’s board. “The whole concept of schools and doing things for kids was what he was all about,” Weaver said, her voice cracking. “He will be missed.” Board member Rebecca Brown also spoke of McConnell’s huge heart for the district and the community, but also mentioned his playful and sometimes ornery sides. Brown said when Ferguson would entertain a motion during a meeting, McConnell would nod at Brown to encourage her to make the motion. Then, just as she opened her mouth, McConnell would say “So moved.” “After the meeting, he would say ‘You’ve got to be quicker, Becky,’” she said with a chuckle. Superintendent William Pettigrew recalled that once McConnell joined the board, he would call Pettigrew on each holiday to wish him a happy Easter or Thanksgiving, Merry Christmas, or offer some other holiday greeting. “I beat him one time on the Fourth of July,” Pettigrew said. Pettigrew also recalled his long chats with McConnell over cups of coffee at restaurants. “He never ever bought once,” Pettigrew said, eliciting a collective laugh from a sad school board. Ferguson said Pettigrew would ask for a moment of silence at Thursday’s commencement ceremonies in memory of McConnell. “We will miss his gentle and generous spirit very, very much,” Ferguson said. “Rest in peace, my friend.” McConnell was survived by his wife, two daughters, four grandchildren and one great-grandchild. Memorial donations may be made to the Mars Planet Foundation, c/o Ross McConnell Memorial Scholarship, 116 Browns Hill Road, Valencia, PA 16059.