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.
A View From The Pasture
When I first started out at LA in the 1960s, my mother, a loyal, old-school St. Grottlesex faculty wife, was fond of saying to me, “You’ve got to improve yourself, Joe.” What she meant, of course, was that a few years at this place called Lawrence Academy would be fine for cutting my teeth, but then I needed to move on (and up) to a wealthier, more prestigious institution where I could wear bow ties, suspenders, and tweed jackets with leather patches on the elbows, and work my way into the Headmaster’s office or some such, eventually retiring filled with gratitude for having helped mold the character of future corporate heads, banking magnates and perhaps a president or two.
Well, Mom got part of her wish: I do like bow ties—a fondness inherited from my father and nurtured by the fact that being colorblind, I create fewer sartorial horrors with a bow tie than with a four-in-hand. As to the rest of her dream, I have to give her credit for never expressing disappointment at my failure to move up the tweed-runged ladder.
What I never had the heart to tell my mother, who died long before I retired, was that I stayed at Lawrence precisely because it’s not St. Grottlesex, or, to be fair, not the St. Grottlesex where I grew up in the 1950s, all Brooks Brothers and Long Island lockjaw and faculty tea every day at four o’clock. The very first time I visited the Academy for an interview, as a senior in college, I was struck by how genuine everyone was; on my tour, boys held the doors for Mr. Ferguson and me because they were polite, not because they were looking for “brownie points.” And some of them spoke wicked good Massachusetts English, a dialect worlds removed from the carefully modulated tones of my Greenwich- and Main Line-bred St. Grottlesex classmates. Many faculty had been at the school for years, and, as with the students, every teacher I met was warm, welcoming and encouraging to a nervous kid looking for his first job.
Those same students—their children and grandchildren—are still here, still genuine, unpretentious, still opening doors just because it’s polite and they’re nice people. And I’m far from being the only faculty member who spent, or will have spent, a very long time at Lawrence Academy before moving on or retiring. A few of us became dinosaurs, devoting a lifetime to one job—a quaint concept in these days when corporate loyalty seems to be breathing its last.
Some of the younger readers of this column may wonder why anyone would be crazy enough to attach himself to one position, one career, one home for (in my case) just about half a century. Once in a while, especially since retiring, I’ve asked myself the same question. The answer comes when I think of people like Norm Grant, Dick Jeffers, Rich Baker, or Bob Darling, colleagues and friends all, and all men who believed in LA enough to make it the center of their lives, not just a place to earn a living. I am humbled by these people, and grateful to have been able, like them, to serve a place that I quickly came to love and call home.
So, Mom, I guess your hopes were realized after all. I did improve myself—I stayed at Lawrence Academy.
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This will be the last Shep’s Place until September. Have a good summer, everyone! JS
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