Recollections From the Gleason Years

These remarks by faculty member Deb Harrison were delivered on Sept. 13 in Lawrence Auditorium: Good evening! For those of you who don’t know me, I teach a few biology courses in the Science Department and coach squash, and am here to share a few recollections from the Gleason years. So let’s turn back the calendar just a tiny bit:

The date: Late March 1981.
The venue: ESG’s office.
The event: a job interview for a position in the Nobles Science Department.
The candidate: a young teacher from Pomfret School, whose colleague, Charlie Putnam, had encouraged her to think about an opening at Nobles. The candidate was me.

The interview conversation that day unfolded as it probably had for others before me who’d also found themselves sitting in the headmaster’s office at that school with a castle. A little bit of airtime was given to the nuts and bolts of teaching biology, advising kids, doing dorm duty, and coaching squash and lacrosse.The rest of our chat, however, meandered through other topics, mostly about connections to people, mostly involving stories.

We enjoyed comparing notes about traveling: My trip in Scotland for a few weeks with Pomfret students had ended just several days before I set foot in Ted’s office, and was the catalyst for Ted to share the story of his memorable trip years before, driving through Scotland with his sister, Persis.

Further into our chat, Ted lit right up upon mention of my upcoming summer job at Exeter, and that triggered more conversation and more stories.And along the way as we talked, I learned that there were quite a few Nobles-Pomfret connections, and secretly hoped I’d end up being one of them.

By some stroke of luck a few weeks later, a good old fashioned letter arrived via snail mail. Within it was my first Nobles contract. My Nobles journey officially began about five months later during an annual ritual known as a faculty retreat, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Neophyte that I was, the concept of a faculty retreat was foreign to me, but what was readily apparent on day 1 was the value placed on collegial time together, that my new boss placed a high priority on the notion of community and family, and that this was a warm, welcoming place.Oh, yes, and I realized that I’d need to learn the words to a song called “God is Love.”

Memorable from those six years in which my tenure overlapped with Ted’s headship were many other moments that reinforced that community and family ethic. The Gleasons’ house in its new location now sits next to my house on campus. As I walk by their house each day during my commute to and from school, every so often I fondly recall the warm welcome extended by Anne Gleason when she and Ted hosted numerous faculty events in that very same white house, especially the ones during my first year here.

Our faculty meetings were held in the Memorial Room, when the faculty was actually small enough to fit into such a cozy space. And that magical gathering known as Morning Assembly started off most school days, beginning just as this one did with the ringing of Ted’s iconic bell.

On occasion, Ted would drop in and visit a class that was underway—he loved being in the classroom, loved teaching, and placed high value on the relationships that developed between students and teachers.

We were referred to by our initials back then—ESG was especially interested in middle initials, as well as middle names. I suspect that a number of present and past faculty members in this room can still rattle off the initials of many of their colleagues from those days—I know I can.

Periodically, Ted retold a favorite story to the faculty from his childhood days at Squam Lake, about a broken small outboard motor
and the man who was able to magically repair it. It’s one that we now
enjoy hearing Senior Master Nick Nickerson relate every so often.

Ted’s message through that tale was about believing in one another, or as he articulated it, about finding hope in one another–his version
of Spes Sibi Quisque. As I grew to understand what comprised the fabric of this community, that indelible message was one of its most integral threads.

From this stage and elsewhere, whenever the wisdom of ESG was shared, its focus on caring for others resonated and stuck with me. It was evident through our blossoming community service program, as well as at the heart of what Ted said about simply being a community member of character. He was talking about stewardship, about giving one’s time and talents, reaching out to build relationships while caring for others. I saw that as another integral thread in the sturdy fabric of this place.

Ted communicated loudly and clearly the importance of passionate commitment to the school’s mission, passion for one’s subject matter, for the magic and growth that happen in a classroom or through athletics or service or the arts, passion for being with and understanding kids, and for making a genuine commitment to the community that Ted referred to as a family—more essential threads

ESG wove into the fabric of what made and still makes this such a special place. As I settled in and came to know the story of my new school, I learned more about Ted’s role in its coeducation. That mattered a lot to me. You see, as Ted and Nobles welcomed girls into the upper school in the fall of 1974, my own senior year of high school was also beginning, elsewhere. I am part of the same generation for whom Ted led Nobles in taking a very important next step in its history. As a graduate of a previously all male college that had pretty recently taken the plunge into coeducation, also not long after Title 9 was passed, and as Pomfret’s very first female science teacher, this stuff was important to me.

In September of my second year here, coeducation became a reality for the Nobles middle school, another important step for Nobles led by Ted. A memorable point on this school’s timeline, it was the moment when a dynamic, bright, talented new member of Class V named Beth Reilly first found her seat in a morning assembly in this space and began her Nobles career. Who knew then that today she’d be Bob Henderson’s boss?

There are 11 current faculty members whom Ted hired, who are still teaching, coaching, and working with kids in numerous other capacities at Nobles. According to my humble calculations, that’s over 360 collective years of service to the school… over 360 years of weaving and strengthening those threads of what Ted stood for and hoped for, in the vital fabric of this community, honoring his timeless legacy.

Thank you.

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