Current principal Elizabeth Huddleson said Mr Connollly had played a key role in the development of the Gransha Road school.
Posting on Twitter today (Wednesday), Mrs Huddleson said: “It is with the saddest heart that I share the news of the sudden passing of Stephen Connolly, previous headmaster of BGS. A warm, caring, kind and wise man, instrumental in reshaping the school into the positive, vibrant and caring place it is today. He will be sorely missed.”
Paying tribute, North Down Alliance MP Stephen Farry said: “This is very sad news. Stephen was widely respected, and will be fondly remembered by so many past pupils of Bangor Grammar.”
Commenting on social media, former Education Minister Peter Weir said: “Very saddened to learn of the death of Stephen Connolly, former principal of Bangor Grammar. He gave outstanding leadership not just to the school, securing and implementing the new build, but to the wider educational community. Warm, generous and intelligent, he leaves a great legacy.”
Mr Connolly was educated at Foyle College, Londonderry, where his father was headmaster, and at Trinity College Dublin, where he took a degree in Modern Languages.
He subsequently did his teacher training at the University of Durham before his appointment to the staff of Belfast Royal Academy. There, he became head of English and a member of the senior management team with responsibility for the middle school, press relations and primary school liaison.
Paying tribute, a spokesperson for the Cliftonville Road school said: “The school community is immensely saddened by the news of the sudden passing of our esteemed former colleague Mr Stephen Connolly whilst on holiday in Switzerland.
“Stephen was appointed by Headmaster Louis Lord as a teacher of English in 1975 and proved to be a first-rate practitioner who inspired pupils of all ages and abilities. He became Head of Department and provided exceptional leadership and vision for his colleagues. This was also reflected in his appointment as a Senior Teacher, a role in which he had wide and varied responsibilities, including mentor for Student Teachers and Head of Middle School.
“Stephen recognised the importance of extra-curricular activities, as demonstrated through his coaching of cricket and for having produced the Senior School play for 25 years.
“He was appointed to the position of Headmaster of Bangor Grammar School in 2001, but retained his close connections with the Academy as his wife Jane was the Head of the Religious Studies Department until her retirement.
“The entire school community extends our deepest sympathies to our dear colleague and friend Jane and the whole Connolly family.
“We have lost an inspirational teacher, a loyal and dedicated colleague, and a true gentleman who embodied all of the best qualities in human nature.
“To the world you were just a teacher, but to your pupils, you were the world.”
He introduced Drama to the curriculum and was responsible for drama productions ranging from Broadway musicals to Shakespeare, he accompanied pupils on educational visits across Europe, coached junior cricket and was in charge of activities as varied as junior debating, the Railway Society and roller-blading.
In 1991 he chaired the ministerial working party set up to devise a programme of study for teaching Drama at Key Stage 4 in the Northern Ireland Curriculum and he was also involved in developing CCEA syllabuses in English Literature and Drama.
A diocesan lay reader attached to Helen’s Bay parish church, he also found time to chair the Helen’s Bay Players and to appear on stage, with varying degrees of success. Stephen spent 39 years in teaching, mostly at Bangor, with the last 13 as the head.