Way before he popped up on anyone’s radar in M*A*S*H, Gary Burghoff was just a regular seventh-grade student, dealing with regular seventh-grade problems. One such issue was Mrs. Magdaline Heffernen, his teacher at Bingham School. Like many of his peers, Burghoff thought that Mrs. Heffernen was too strict. The difference between young Gary and the rest of his classmates though, was that Burghoff took matters into his own hands, deciding to take charge against the teacher he thought was stern.
Called to action, 13-year-old Gary Burghoff drafted a petition to end Mrs. Heffernen’s career at Bingham School. It’s an age-old ploy that probably happens once a year in every school across America. Surely Gary Burghoff wasn’t the only kid who ever tried to get his teacher fired. The difference, though, was how widespread his campaign was
“I didn’t think she was so great when I was in her room at Bingham School because [Mrs. Heffernen] was so strict,” Burghoff told the Hartford Courant in 1975. “I decided to draw up a petition to get rid of her. So I got 460 kids’ signatures on a paper that said “This PARTITION [sic] is against Mrs. Heffernen.”
The young Radar marched down to the principal’s office, sure his hard work would make him the hero of the schoolyard. In Burghoff’s mind, the principal would be so surprised by the sheer number of signatures that he’d have no choice but to tell Mrs. Heffernen to leave forever. This is an exceptional example of 13-year-old boy logic. If all went according to plan, Mrs. Heffernen would have to drop to her knees and beg the kids she’d “wrong” to keep her job. They’d, of course, refuse, banishing her forever from Bingham School.
“Instead,” said Burghoff, “the principal got us together and showed us a photo of a young girl surrounded by lots of school children. ‘You see this girl, he said. ‘Well, that’s Mrs. Heffernen. There was an active tuberculosis case found in the school, and the next day only four out of 60 teachers showed up for school. The others were afraid. Mrs. Heffernen was one of the four who came to take care of the children. Now, do you want to get rid of her?'”
The students summarily tore up the petition, and the young Burghoff learned a valuable lesson, delivering a personal and heartfelt apology to Mrs. Heffernen.
Like all great stories, though, this one has a twist! Mrs. Heffernen became one of Gary Burghoff’s favorite people ever, and the TV star would visit his former teacher every time he visited home.