Ted is the consummate school man becausehe is not the consummate version of any simplecategory. The clean-cut guy who still wore a coatand tie to class when colleagues were wearingturtlenecks and fleeces would use Jane Austen toget kids questioning society’s arbitrary codes ofdress and conduct. The impeccable grammarian(I dare you to catch an error in his speech) droverecently all the way to DC to see a production ofHir, a play that argues for people choosing theirown pronouns. The great books devotee whoinsisted we teach classic works from the pastintroduced the graphic novel and film studies.The Shakespearian (who has seen all of the playson stage, some several times, and who can tell youwho directed and who played the lead roles in allof them) resisted administrative objections andstaged Equus here (a provocative production nonewho watched can forget). This is the same directorwho took the popular Broadway musical Big Riverand turned it into a serious discussion of race andinvited a famous African American Twain scholarto campus to lead the conversation. Ted is theconsummate school man because he is not afraidof a big, risky idea.
These courageous, daring moments standout, but what most of us will miss most are thestories. Ted is the master of the little self-effacinganecdote, usually hilarious, which can enlivena dull moment but stay with you forever as areminder of something you won’t soon forget (norshould you) about writing or reading or living withgumption and grace. There’s the time he told aboutreading Cormac McCarthy’s The Crossing andweeping at the end and then picking up a pen towrite the author. Who can hear that story withoutbeing reminded that good novels can be mightypowerful if we read as much with our hearts aswith our minds? He liked to say that what he mostloved about teaching his favorite works is that hewas getting a chance to introduce his new friends,his current students, to dear old friends like Huckand Tom, Falstaff and Harry, Yossarian and MiloMinderbinder.
The story about reading McCarthy ends with
his confessing that he’d included a self-addressed
postcard, hoping the famously reclusive author
would favor him with a reply. And some weeks
later that card arrived with only these words:
Yeah, thanks Blain.
— BEN HALE
In the school’s long history,there have been fewerheadmasters’ secretariesthan there have beenheadmasters. The person most responsible forthis little-known fact is Diane Grymes, who in herforty-one years of service at Woodberry ForestSchool was the principal assistant to our last fourheadmasters: Emmett Wright, John Grinalds,