Paul and Anne Dagle

Paul Dagle ’82 Finds Healing Through Helping Others

After 40 years at General Dynamics Electric Boat, Paul Dagle will be retiring this summer. And while he’s looking forward to having more time for golf and to spend with his grandkids, it won’t be a typical retirement. Instead, he’ll be continuing the important work of honoring the memory of his son Brian with ongoing suicide education, prevention, and grief support through the Brian Dagle Foundation and Brian’s Healing Hearts Center for Hope and Healing.

Dagle and his wife, Ann, lost their youngest son Brian to suicide in November of 2011 when he was a sophomore at Castleton University (formerly Castleton State College). The loss was devastating, leaving the Dagles to grapple with myriad questions—one of the most prevalent: how do you keep going after such a heartbreaking, traumatic loss? 

“We didn’t know,” Dagle answers. “It was devastating. The grief was the most powerful emotion I’ve ever felt in my life.”

I found helping people to be so beneficial to me, personally. Helping others has helped us heal. I’m not over it—I’ll never be over it—but I’m at a place where I can move forward with my life.

He and Ann attended various suicide loss support groups and counselors, all to mixed results. Eventually, Dagle says, Ann began attending a support group at Hope Floats Healing and Wellness Center in Kingston, Mass. From that group came the understanding of how to begin living her life with hope again, despite the pain of losing Brian, as well as the creation of their own nonprofit, the Brian Dagle Foundation, in 2014.

After peer support and other grief training, the foundation started off small as word eventually spread throughout the local community. While Paul didn’t attend the support groups in the beginning—“At the time, I was still working through my own grief in my own way,” he explains—what prompted him to go was learning from Ann that a father who lost his teenage son would be at the next group meeting, and would be the first man to attend the support group. They didn’t want him to feel alone, and once Paul attended to be there for him, he realized just what it was that helped him work toward healing.

“I found helping people to be so beneficial to me, personally,” Dagle says. “Helping others has helped us heal. I’m not over it—I’ll never be over it—but I’m at a place where I can move forward with my life.”

He and Ann haven’t just moved forward; they’ve taken their grief and are using it to help and support others. They’re both board members of the Connecticut Chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. Paul has recently been appointed chapter chair.

A Center for Hope

In 2018 they bought a home in Niantic, Conn., and opened Brian’s Healing Hearts Center for Hope and Healing. Professional therapists have offices on the home’s second floor (the foundation also covers the cost of up to six sessions for those who are seeking professional help). The first floor serves as a meeting space for support groups; in addition to groups for those who have lost a loved one to suicide, Brian’s Healing Hearts also hosts groups for spousal loss, loss to addiction, child loss, and the loss of any loved one.

“When you first lose someone, you lose hope,” Dagle says. “You don’t know how you’re going to function, how you’ll smile again, but when you do, you have to remember that you’re not dishonoring the person you lost. It takes work, and you have to feel the pain and work your way through … we want to let people know they’re not alone, and to help build their hope back.”

Dagle statue

Niantic may be the foundation’s home base, but it’s not the only place where support happens. The Dagles also take their resources directly to the local community through suicide education and prevention training presentations, sponsoring mental health speakers at local high schools and community forums, fundraisers, 5Ks, golf tournaments, a Friday night football game, and—in a particular ode to Brian—a lacrosse game.

Called LAX2LIVE, the event takes place each year during a regular-season game using one of Brian’s favorite sports to raise awareness about mental health and suicide prevention in local high schools.

At each event, there is a pre-game conversation with the players and a halftime conversation with parents and fans as well as a booth that provides resource materials and information about programs for anyone who may be struggling or looking for ways to support others. It’s also the source of one of the moments that has stuck with Dagle the most since he started his work with the foundation: hearing from parents that after participating in a LAX2LIVE game, their child confided in them that they needed help.

“Once they share, there’s a much better chance that they can get the help they need,” Dagle says. “It pulls on my heart that we’ve been able to help someone through conversations to identify their concerns and get the support they need.”

It pulls on my heart that we’ve been able to help someone through conversations to identify their concerns and get the support they need.

Paul and Ann Dagle

While the foundation has been spearheaded by the Dagles, it’s also a team effort, something Dagle knows about after his time at WPI. “Whether it was on the football team, working on projects, through my time in Phi Kappa Theta, or working on the Interfraternity Council, I learned at WPI that working as a team accomplishes so much more than an individual can on their own.”

And accomplish they have—Dagle is proud to share that friends and family who are also WPI alumni raised nearly $30,000 for the foundation over the past two years. “Guys I played football with, my fraternity brothers, others I interacted with who I haven’t seen in decades,” he says. “They all donated. WPI doesn’t just teach students to be engineers; it teaches them to be people who contribute to their communities as well.”

Dagle’s friends and family aren’t the only ones who support him; Brian’s do as well, from inviting the Dagles to their weddings to regularly helping with fundraisers and other events held by Brian’s Healing Hearts (one of them is on the foundation’s board of directors). It all shows that not only did Brian choose to surround himself with good people, his friends did the same.

“Brian was everyone’s friend,” Dagle says simply. “He was the glue that brought people together, and we try to do the same thing. He enriched our lives, and now we’re enriching the lives of others through his spirit.

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