by Joe Sheppard
With a little help from his friends...
Although Joe officially retired in June 2013, he remains active at LA, continuing as a contributing writer and editor for the Academy Journal. We trust you'll enjoy Shep's Place and check back often to read Joe's habitually witty, often poignant, and always insightful vignettes about life at Lawrence Academy.
What Would the Old Guys Think?I walked around the LA campus two or three times in July and August, and each time I beheld a magnificent mess. Powderhouse Road was dug up and being relocated; the parking spaces in front of the Schoolhouse were being removed and replaced with grass; and the inside of the Schoolhouse itself, especially upstairs, was in a state of chaos, the corridor stacked high with boxes and furniture belonging to various people whose offices were being relocated. Looking at that jumble made me a little bit glad I’d retired.
Then, early in September, close to the opening of school, I drove down from our summer cottage to do a little work on the alumni files project we’d started last year. Someone had posted on Facebook that the new driveway was finished, so I decided to try it. It is a thing of beauty, and except for the newness of the pavement, it looks as if it had always been there: lovely stonework at the entrance and around trees, a granite-post fence that matches the one on Powderhouse Road. The graceful serpentine curve of the road itself hugs the hillside naturally — and it will surely be less scary to negotiate in the winter than the old, straight-down-the-hill-into-the-traffic driveway. I’ll never forget a hair-raising trip home one icy January day, when the brakes on my old Ford Ranger truck started to lock as I half-slid, sideways, down that hill at five o’clock in the afternoon. (For those of you who haven’t been to Groton in many years, there is a real, 10-mile-an-hour rush hour every weekday.) Thankfully, the ABS kicked in just in time to save me from an untidy entrance onto Main Street, and I got home, stirred and shaken.
Anyway, I rounded the new cul-de-sac at the top of the hill and parked in one of the visitor spots in front of Dr. Green. As I walked toward the middle of campus, noticing fresh grass where cars had parked for years, I found myself wondering, “What would Norm Grant think of all this? What about Fergie? Would he like seeing his old office transformed into the admissions center? Or seeing his old house, long since converted into a girls’ dormitory?”
Having gotten to know both men fairly well during my first, and their last, years at the Academy, I found the question easy to answer: the two men, who actually had little in common, would respond very differently.
Arthur Ferguson might find the new Lawrence Academy difficult to accept. He was nothing if not the guardian of the old school, a man whose watchword was “It’s always been that way.” This is not to disparage him, for he was, by all accounts, a superb teacher who, some have said, would have been just as happy to remain in the classroom when he was named Headmaster in 1958. But, while he enlarged the student body and built buildings (Spaulding and Sheedy Halls and, in 1967, his eponymous library/theatre), he did not like social or structural changes, and had trouble dealing with them when they happened, near the end of his long career. Having once turned down the gift of an indoor swimming pool with the question “What would we do with it?”, he might see the new entrance road as a needless expense. And the idea of the Headmaster’s office moving down the hall would not sit well with a man who, like his predecessors, was accustomed to being at the center of school life, both professionally and physically. (Check out my article in the upcoming Academy Journal.)
Norm Grant, on the other hand, never stopped having dreams for the small and poor school where he came to work as a young teacher: better facilities, new buildings, even “a small chapel up in the orchard,” as he, a very devout man, mentioned to me once. He would understand the sound reasoning behind the reconfigured offices in the Schoolhouse, and would appreciate the increased winter safety of the new driveway as well as its aesthetic appeal — but wanting assurance that the Buildings and Grounds crew wouldn’t have too hard a time plowing it. While he’d admire the fine conversion work done on Brazer House, he’d probably be grateful that one bit of the school he knew hasn’t changed: the apartment in Dana House, above the health center, where he and Catherine lived for so long, is still a faculty home.
* * *
My little reverie ended when I walked into the Schoolhouse and was greeted by my former advisee, Assistant Director of Admissions Sara Davey Gillis ’10, seated at her desk outside the beautiful new admissions lounge, once the domain of principals, headmasters and heads of school. Now, prospective students and their families can relax in comfortable, cheery surroundings, waiting to make a first acquaintance with this venerable, but ever-new, institution. I’ve got to believe that even Arthur Ferguson would give it his blessing after a while.
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