James Gallagher, 73, a Philadelphia teacher who used his near-blindness as a gift to help motivate children who have trouble learning, died Saturday, Nov. 16, of Wegener's disease, a blood-vessel ailment, at Penn Medicine at Rittenhouse.
Born in Kingston, Pa., he earned his bachelor's degree from Bloomsburg University and a master's degree from the University of Pennsylvania.
Gallagher began his teaching career with the Philadelphia public-school system in 1966. He was a math resource teacher at Kirkbride School in South Philadelphia, then at Greenfield School in Center City.
In 1976, he began teaching science at the Franklin Institute as one of 11 district teachers assigned to Philadelphia museums.
The nearly blind Mr. Gallagher used a unique style of teaching to engage children. He would ask rapid-fire questions, and then circulate among the pupils, putting his face near theirs so he could see their expressions.
If a child was having trouble mastering the lesson, Mr. Gallagher would wait patiently until the child understood.
In a 1990 profile, Mr. Gallagher told the Philadelphia Daily News that his own problems in school, due to poor vision, had made him sensitive to students' struggles.
"I like working with slow children," he said. "It's like a disability, but it's a disability you can cure if you keep working on it and working on it."
For his patience and prowess in the classroom, Mr. Gallagher, then 50, was named Philadelphia School District Teacher of the Year in 1990.
Mr. Gallagher, who could not drive but could read and watch TV with the help of special contact lenses, retired from the School District in 2000.
In retirement, Mr. Gallagher was an active member of Silver Foxes, an older-adult group that meets at William Way LGBT Community Center.
Surviving are a brother; a sister and a nephew.
Services were Tuesday, Dec. 10. Mr. Gallagher donated his body to science.