Harrington family squarely rooted in Riordan


Lance yearbook 1955 and 1964

Notable mathematicians Robert Harrington ’55 and Leo Harrington ’64 are the father and uncle of Riordan math teacher Ken Harrington.

Ken Harrington is a new math teacher here at Archbishop Riordan who teaches Algebra II and Calculus and is co-moderator of the National Honor Society along with Ottile Valverde.  

Although Harrington is new, he has family roots that dig deep into Riordan’s history and date all the way back to its humble beginnings. His father, Robert Harrington ’55, and his uncle Leo Harrington ’64 both graduated from Riordan and have accomplished some pretty extraordinary feats.

Ken Harrington was originally also supposed to go to Riordan, but his acceptance into Lowell High School altered his decision. 

He recalled, “I remember growing up as a young boy, my uncle and father would always talk about Riordan. We lived close to Mount Davidson, not far from Riordan, so it was always in the family. I was supposed to go to Riordan. I got really good grades and was really talented at math and I got into Lowell, so it was by accident that I didn’t go to Riordan.”

I remember growing up as a young boy, my uncle and father would always talk about Riordan.”

— Ken Harrington, math teacher

Harrington’s father, Robert Harrington, however was a scholar and athletic star here at the R and was a part of the graduating class 1955. 

“I believe I was in the second full class to graduate from Riordan.  There were about 200 students in that class.  The first class to graduate was from St. James that closed and numbered about 50 students. Riordan in the 1950s was all boys, predominantly white.  Teachers were mainly lay people and Brothers of Mary,” reminisced Harrington. 

He played football for four years, three years on varsity as quarterback and safety, and basketball for four years, three years on varsity as a center. He also was in band all four years and played the french horn.

Most notable was his track career. He did track for four years, all varsity, and his major events were high and low hurdles and long jump. This meant he was on the 1955 track team that also won the state championship that same year. The championship banner is visible, hanging in the gym, along with the many others that signify Riordan’s athletic achievements. Robert Harrington’s photo is also displayed in the walkway that connects both sides of the stands. 

After high school, Harrington had to make the choice of what college to attend. 

“I received scholarship offers from every major college on the West Coast in football and track, but accepted the scholarship from Holy Cross College in Worcester, Massachusetts,” recalled Harrington. 

At Berkeley, Leo Harrington and Jeffrey Paris . . . would prove a theorem called the Paris-Harrington theorem.”

At Holy Cross, Harrington would go on to major in math and continue his track career. Following graduation, he would join the Marine Corp as an officer. Finally, he made his return to San Francisco where he would take numerous positions in the San Francisco Unified School District, including: Math teacher at James Lick Middle School for five years, Head of the Math Department at Mission High School for 10 years, Assistant principal at McAteer High School for two years, Principal at John O’Connell High School for three years, Principal at Galileo High School for three years, various positions at Central Office for 15 years, his last his years before retirement as Associate Superintendent of Planning and Research.

Ken Harrington’s uncle, Leo Harrington, could have been one of the most prolific math minds to ever walk in Riordan’s halls. At Riordan, he was very interested in math, chess and even wrote columns for The Crusader. After graduating, he would go on to attend USF from 1964-1968 and after that, attend MIT from 1968-1973 where he would earn his PhD in Math/Logic. But that’s not all. He would then go on to work at UC Berkeley in 1975 as a math professor. This is where things get exciting.

At Berkeley, Leo Harrington and Jeffrey Paris, a mathematician and Professor of Logic in the School of Mathematics at the University of Manchester England, would prove a theorem called the Paris-Harrington theorem in 1977, which is an extension of Ramsey’s Theorem. The theorem showed that if the axiom of determinacy holds for all analytic sets then x exists for all real x’s. In non-math language, it basically means it showed that a very minor variant of a basic theorem of finite mathematics was true, yet not provable from the axioms of finite mathematics. 

“My dad recalls Riordan being built, he was 10 years old in 1947, and his mom (my grandma) took him down to the site and said ‘this is where you are going to attend high school’. ”

— Ken Harrington, math teacher

After all this, there is still one more Harrington to mention, Leo’s older brother, Joseph Harrington. Although not an alumnus, he did attend Riordan from 1955 to 1957 as a freshman and sophomore before leaving to attend Chaminade High School in Los Angeles.

 Being that all of the Harringtons who have graduated from Riordan were great at math, Algebra II student Emilio Cruz ’22 feels even more confident in Ken Harrington’s teaching.

He says, “Now knowing that my math teacher comes from a family that has some very important and impressive math figures in it, I know I’m being taught by someone who I know will provide me with good teaching in my math class.”

This Harrington family’s deep roots is proof that the “Strength In Family” slogan we hold here at Riordan, is truer than ever.