Faces Lifted in MacNeil Lounge
Posted 04/03/2013 08:23AM

MacNeil Lounge just plain feels better this year—that’s what happens when somebody pays very close attention to you. And when you feel good, it rubs off on those who come to visit you.

The loving touch came from the duo that tends to the keeping of Lawrence Academy’s history, volunteers Paul Husted ’64 and Dick Jeffers.

They recently completed the extensive repair and restoration of a historic portrait that has not seen the light of day for many years, and the need to hang this “new” addition prompted them to rethink the display of portraits on the walls of the MacNeil Lounge. The refreshed arrangement is attractive, welcoming, and informative.

Malcolm and Helen MacNeil have taken their proper place over the mantle, the room having been named for them when they furnished it in 1949. Malcolm also served on the Board of Trustees (1948–1965), as did his son Norman (1960–1983), as does his son, current president Bruce MacNeil (1984–).

The MacNeils gaze out over a collection of portraits of benefactors, trustees, and long-tenured heads of school spaced tastefully between the tall windows along the walls.

Pillsbury portrait - before restoration. Pillsbury portrait - after restoration.
Pillsbury portrait - before restoration.
Pillsbury portrait - after restoration.

The newcomer among them, which spurred all of the commotion in the room, is also the one that needed the most restorative work. Albert Pillsbury, who served on the Board of Trustees from 1899 to 1930 (president 1918–1930), was a philanthropist and also served as a president of the Massachusetts State Senate and as Attorney General of Massachusetts. A member of the National Negro Committee, the precursor to the NAACP, Pillsbury drafted the bylaws for the NAACP and resigned from the American Bar Association in objection to that group’s discrimination.

Other older portraits have also received some serious TLC over the course of the past six years, since Husted and Jeffers began to persistently tackle the cleanings and restorations one at a time.

The first to be revitalized at the hands of the experts at the Powers Gallery in Acton were Michael Sheedy (trustee 1894–1946, treasurer 1898-1946) and Dr. Samuel Green (trustee 1866–1918, president 1908–1918), both of them significant benefactors as well. Dr. Green also served as president of the first Alumni Association in 1883. An avid historian, some of his collection of Groton ephemera now resides at Lawrence Academy and is available for viewing on the school’s website. It is well worth taking a look!

Two other former trustees followed suit and visited the Acton “spa” for treatment.

Caleb Butler (trustee 1807–1836) also served as Preceptor from 1802 to 1810, and again from 1812 to 1815. A historian, he wrote a well-respected history of Groton. The Butler High School, Groton’s first public high school, was named after him.

Luther Lawrence (trustee 1811–1839, president 1830–1839) was the son of Deacon Samuel Lawrence, one of the school’s founders. A student at the school when it was still known as Groton Academy, he left in 1794 to attend Harvard University and eventually returned to serve as the first alumnus on the Board of Trustees. He also served for a year as the mayor of Lowell. Thanks to the efforts of Paul Husted, a copy of his portrait was created and presented to the City of Lowell last summer to hang in its hall of mayors.

Completing the array of honorees are images—some photographs and some paintings—of benefactors Huntley and Harriet Spaulding; Headmaster Fred Clifton Gray (1925–1958); Headmaster Arthur Ferguson (1958–1969); Headmaster Benjamin Williams (1969–1984), who was responsible for returning the school to its co-ed status in 1971, and his wife Nan; and, most recently, Head of School Steve Hahn (1984–2003) and his wife Trim.

One additional ornate gold frame displays a beautifully penned historical compendium executed in ink by N.D. Gould, who donated it to the school in 1856. It is a visually stunning summary of the school’s early history and states its purpose as “designed to present at a glance the efforts and contributions of the fathers in behalf of good learning, with the more recent generous endowments of munificent sons.”

While current students and faculty visiting MacNeil Lounge may not pay much attention to the faces in the portraits that preside over their many activities there, the names are familiar to them in their daily lives at Lawrence Academy. They live in Sheedy Faculty Residence and Pillsbury, Dr. Green, Butler, and Lawrence Houses; they study and work in the Gray and Ferguson buildings; and they dance, make music, and display their artwork in The Williams Arts Center.

Both Paul Husted and Dick Jeffers are pleased that MacNeil is home to this collection.

“The history that hangs in this room is in the right place,” Jeffers explains. “After Bigelow Hall, it is the second oldest school building on campus, so it is a fitting place to share the school’s history.”

The two historians do not seem to be heaving a sigh of relief at the “completion” of this project, as they are well aware that their work is never done. Jeffers concludes, as they look forward to other on-going projects, that they will continue to enjoy achieving what they can, and he offers his motto: “Have enough pride in your past to share it with the future."