I firmly believe that leaders need to do what they ask others to do. Therefore, I needed to follow my own exhortation and write a gratitude note. I decided to direct my thanks to Ann Hall. Ann was the Middle School Director at Marlborough School in Los Angeles where I served as Upper School Director. When I arrived at Marlborough, Ann had already worked at the school for more than 20 years. Indeed, she had spent her entire career there, most of it as Middle School Director. Prior to Marlborough, I had taught middle and upper school history at The Spence School in New York City, done graduate work in history at Columbia, and held various development/fundraising positions for a consultant, a seminary and a small school. Obviously, Marlborough’s head of school took a leap of faith when she hired me as Upper School Director.
Almost everything I learned about being a division director (and the opportunity for growth was large), I learned from Ann Hall. She never intruded but was always ready to provide advice when I asked for it (which, fortunately, was frequently). When I made mistakes, which I certainly did, she helped me glean the appropriate lessons. I also watched and absorbed as she transitioned her division from a junior high school model to a middle school model. Using research, persuasion, and directives, she demonstrated how to move a faculty to a new way of thinking and working. The foundation of what I know about middle school philosophy and pedagogy, I learned from Ann. Through all this, we completely bonded – both being dog lovers and Scottie owners cemented the relationship, and I was extraordinarily grateful for her friendship and her mentoring.
Ann paid me the greatest compliment by retiring at the end of my first year. She claimed that, after years of short-lived Upper School Directors, she believed that the upper school was in good hands. I was humbled by the trust and faith she placed in me. I knew, though, that the degree to which I could honor that faith relied on what I had learned from her.
After staying in touch for a number of years and even occasionally visiting one another (she and her husband moved to Spokane, Washington), I lost track of her. Determined to contact her, I managed to find her new address, sent her a note.
About 10 days later, I called her (a visit to Idaho being out of the question). I will admit that I dialed the number with some trepidation – after all, we hadn’t spoken in probably 10 years. The phone rang a number of times, and I thought with some relief that I would get an answering machine. But then she answered. She immediately acknowledged my note which prompted me to explain about writing these columns and about my Thanksgiving Assembly talk.
We ended up talking for more than an hour, catching up on our lives and pets – especially the dogs. We chatted about Marlborough and people we both knew. I learned that Ann’s husband, a clergyman, had been retired exactly three days before he was called to a church back in the LA area, where they returned for three years. After five weeks as a guest preacher in London, they had, just a few months ago, settled in Idaho, officially retired (maybe). It was as if we had seen each other yesterday. Our husbands talked, too, and immediately connected on Facebook where they can talk about restoring old cars.
The conversation brought with it the rush of reconnecting with someone, the excitement of rekindling a friendship and the realization that you still have so much in common. All of that would have been gratifying enough. But as fortune would have it, in the course of four days around Thanksgiving, both the Halls’ parrots, one of whom they had had for 35 years, died, killed it turned out by fumes from silicone liner in their new house’s oven. In the same time period, one of their dogs, a pug named Spanky, was diagnosed with aggressive cancer, and had to be put down. Ann has no children of her own, and in many ways her pets are her children. As you can imagine, three long time companions dying in four days was awful. My note arrived very shortly thereafter. Ann said it “came at just the right time.” Without having any idea about Ann’s current life, I sent my note when she appreciated it even more than she might have otherwise; having lightened her sadness made me feel wonderful.
Wednesday December, 16, 2009 at 04:42PM