By Craig Gemmell
Head of School
It’s Friday: the final two days of a seven-day boarding school week stretch before me. I’ve been scrambling because members of Brewster’s Board of Trustees are driving and flying from points near and far for a stretch of weekend meetings.
I’ve pored over the budget for weeks, prepared hours of content to shape the meetings and worried over details. I know I should be fretful. I won’t be able to answer every question perfectly and sweat my way through the challenging stretches. But I’m not all that wound up about the meetings because tonight we’re honoring the legacy of Bob and Shirley Richardson and I’m distracted. Though Bob passed away in 2014, Shirley will be with us.
I want to do right by them and have thought much about what they mean to this place — and in the process my thinking has spiraled from Bob and Shirley to Brewster to the very act of teaching and, ultimately, to the really big questions.
Bob and Shirley Richardson came to Brewster in 1965, just before I was born. Bob came to teach history, and Shirley became a college counselor. In their nearly five decades here, they shaped history and, almost as an afterthought, literally wrote the history of the Academy in their 2011 The Brewster Story. I devoured it in the days prior to my arriving here in the bright sunshine of early July 2015. Remarkable material expressed beautifully.
The Richardsons were a part of a golden generation I’ve long referred to as “school people” — a particular and critical archetype found throughout these odd little villages called New England boarding schools. The Richardsons, like other great, abiding “school people” such as their compatriots David and Sheila Smith, were devoted. They endured. They rode through the social tumult of the 1960s, the economic deprivations of the 1970s, the modernizing 1980s, the surging 1990s, and into the new millennium as teachers and coaches and administrators — and as parents to generations of kids. And in so doing, they both evolved themselves and helped the people and place they were devoted to evolve.
Thinking about their lives at Brewster and their legacy has gotten me thinking closely about my colleagues — the people I work for. And so I’ve serially pulled myself away from my monitor to walk the halls even more than I usually do.
In my meanderings, I spied David Hersey, one of our greenhorns, working math problems with his students with a gentleness that belies his tall stature. Next door, Matt Butcher was laughing and pointing at a word scribbled on the board. Down in the senior section, Kim Yau and her student were deep in serious conversation. TJ Palmer was red in the face with excitement and kids were rapt. Up in the freshman area on the third floor, Lauren Hammond ’77, Bob and Shirley’s daughter, looked intently with a student through a notebook.
Returning to my work preparing for the board meetings, I mused about how legacies get built through countless humble actions over a lifetime and realized that the real magic of the place can’t be captured in Excel or PowerPoint or even in a quick blog post. And the real work is not in strategy or master planning for some time in the distant future. The real work is happening around me, all around me, by devoted school people, each building his or her legacy, one caring act at a time.