According to Lou Tobacco, everything he ever really needed to know about life he learned at Monsignor Farrell High School.
“I built my foundation here,” the former Assemblyman and Northwell Health executive said during a recent phone interview from his campus office where he is currently prepping to start the next chapter of his career as president and chief executive officer of the storied boy’s learning institution.
“During my four years here I became very involved in student government, which gave me the opportunity to do preceptorships and internships that launched my career with Guy Molinari,” Tobacco continued. “It was my experience as student council president that initially attracted me to public service and gave me the background I needed to serve my community in Assembly.”
He garnered confidence in public speaking as a Farrell Player, acting first as the devil in “Damn Yankees” and the lion in the “Wiz,” learned about charity, development and fundraising through his role as member and event chair of the school’s SuperDance committee which successfully raised money for the Muscular Dystrophy Association. During his senior year he learned how to spread the Christian message in a religious education training course, subsequently teaching CCD to third grade students at St. Ann’s grammar school in Dongan Hills.
“The education I received at Farrell has been a compass throughout my life,” Tobacco said. “Every decision I have made in life has been based upon the roots that I established at this school.”
Tobacco, who was born and raised on Staten Island, graduated from Farrell in 1990, four years after his brother, Dominic. He attended SUNY Albany and graduated from the prestigious Rockefeller College of Public Affairs and Policy.
He started his career in public service in 1994 as the assistant director of Contract Oversight in the office of the Staten Island Borough President where he also served as the director of community relations from 1996 to 1997. Tobacco then worked in pharmaceutical sales, first with Novartis and then Pfizer Inc., for 13 years.
In 2007, he was elected to the New York State Assembly, where he served three consecutive terms, representing the 62nd legislative district. He served as the ranking member on the Health Committee and was appointed to the Committee on Ways and Means, as well as committees on Higher Education, Codes, Transportation, Cities, Corporations, Authorities, Commissions and numerous subcommittees.
He most recently served as the associate executive director of community and government affairs for Staten Island University Hospital, Northwell Health. He has also held the titles of senior director of external affairs, as well as director of surgical business development at the hospital.
“I feel as though every chapter in my life has just built upon the one before it,” Tobacco said. “I was able to use my expertise in public service to make the transition to a nonprofit and advocate and support SIUH, promoting the hospital within the community while also learning about the corporate background and structure at Northwell Health. I used every lesson I learned from my previous experiences to efficiently tackle whatever task was at hand. And that’s exactly what I’ll do here at Monsignor Farrell.”
Under the school’s new structure, Tobacco joins Larry Musanti, who was named principal of Farrell earlier this year.
“I remember Lou as a freshman,” recalled Musanti, who has taught at the school for decades. “He was president of his homeroom class, then evolved into president of the student council. If he goes at this job with the same energy that he did when he was in high school, he is going to be a terrific president. I think we are going to make a great team.”
In his new role, Tobacco is being tasked with providing visionary leadership, enhancing the success of the school’s Catholic mission and educational organization and ensuring the continued viability of Farrell’s financial and enrollment management.
Monsignor Edmund Whalen, who served as Farrell’s first alumnus principal from 2010 until 2019, when he was elevated to the position of Vicar for Clergy by Cardinal Dolan, explained the changes in education that led to the decision to move to the President/Principal model.
“Education has changed a lot,” Whalen said. “There is much more to running a school than the academics.”
The President/Principal philosophy, which has emerged as a popular form of school governance over the past decade, is aligned around two distinct leadership profiles: The outward-facing entrepreneur and institution builder (president), and the inward-facing academician and champion of teaching, learning, and best practice (principal).
“A president is responsible to pull together all of the various aspects of what it means to run a school. It also means having to put together financially the wherewithal to make that happen,” Whalen said. “Lou understands that. Lou knows that the job of president is to bring the rest of the community together to help Farrell to be the unique place that it is; the best in Catholic education.”
Tobacco says he will continue his work in the local community during this transition: He currently sits on the Board of Directors for the Staten Island Economic Development Corporation, the Staten Island Chamber of Commerce, the Seton Foundation for Learning, the Police Organization Providing Peer Assistance, the Staten Island Not-for-Profit Association and the Joseph Maffeo Foundation, where he serves as chair of the annual casino night fundraiser.
And it’s because of that community involvement that several esteemed Farrell alums are lauding Tobacco’s appointment.
“Lou is the perfect choice to be Monsignor Farrell High School’s first president,” declared Staten Island Borough President James Oddo, class of 1984. “I have no doubt that he will spend every waking moment trying to help the young men blessed to walk through the doors of this iconic institution fulfill their potential and propel them forward. Farrell has a marvelous history and I truly believe Lou will usher in an unprecedented era.”
Farrell alumnus and Richmond County District Attorney Michael E. McMahon spoke about Tobacco’s love for both Farrell and the community.
“Having Lou Tobacco serve as Monsignor Farrell’s first president is both a brilliant and logical choice,” he said. “His characteristic warmth, enthusiasm and energy will serve the school well as he leads it with inspiration. His abiding Catholic faith, deep love of family and friends, his tireless service to our community as Assembly member and hospital leader, and his powerful commitment to Farrell as a proud and engaged alumnus give him the needed tools and make him, quite simply, the perfect choice.”
Tobacco is immediately improving several facets of the school’s infrastructure, working with Con Edison to install solar panels and exploring the use of dual energy sources with National Grid. He is also hoping to modernize all of the technology currently used by students and teachers.
“In the late fall we will be opening the Brother Henry S. Wright Learning Commons, a project that has transformed the school’s library into a new, sleek modern, state-of-the-art learning center that is in line with what exists on college campuses,” Tobacco said.
And Tobacco says that’s just one of the many improvements he’ll bring to the Oakwood school.
“As an alumnus, I’m so excited to be back in these hallways. I cannot wait to get started to work with our faculty and administration,” he concluded. “I will be standing on the shoulders of the giants that have gone before me, such as Monsignor Bergin, Monsignor Finn, Monsignor Nevin, and Monsignor Whalen. I look forward to all of us – administration, faculty, staff, coaches, students, parents, and alumni, working together as one team to bring Farrell, in an exciting way, to new heights.”