By Beth Reilly '87
President, Nobles Board of Trustees

Good afternoon and welcome. As we gather today for a wonderful celebration in our community, we are well aware of the tragedy that unfolded overnight in Nevada and the ongoing plight of so many in Puerto Rico, and other communities ravaged by recent hurricanes. Indeed, we need never look far to find suffering and circumstances we wish did not exist.  Perhaps at these moments we are even more grateful for the community we inhabit and even more determined to lead lives of purpose that makes the world a better place.

Today marks an extraordinary moment in the 151-year history of Noble and Greenough School.  For only the seventh time, Nobles has a new head of school. As you well know, to say that this is the moment we have a new head of school is a bit off the mark. We have had a new head of school, Dr. Catherine J. Hall, since July 1 and it’s been over a year since we announced her appointment to the school community. As a result, this all may feel like old news to you. But, these transitions are rare, especially for Nobles, and they should be celebrated. Our nation changes leaders every 4 or 8 years, and only occasionally more frequently. On average, Nobles changes heads of school every 25 years.  When the United States inaugurates a new president, even if it’s a re-elected president, there is a massive celebration about what the transition symbolizes, with associated pageantry and all.  I can safely say that as we celebrate our own inauguration, which we call an installation, that this is the largest crowd Nobles has ever assembled to witness the event. We may not have National Geographic pictures to prove it but trust me.

I know that it’s the largest celebration we have had because not only is the size of the student population bigger than it was when any previous head was installed, our faculty is bigger, our staff is bigger, and we have invited a number of distinguished guests. Among them, please join me in welcoming Dr. Hall’s family, including her parents, siblings, and, of course, Matthew, Thomas and Evelyn, whom we are thrilled to have on campus as part of the Nobles family. I also want to thank special guests from Dr. Hall’s former school, Episcopal Academy, including Head of School Dr. TJ Locke, trustee Lou D’Ambrosio, his wife, Kim, and their daughter, Alexa, who was one of Dr. Hall’s advisees and wanted to be here for her today.  During the search process, we spoke with Mr. D’Ambrosio, who has been highly accomplished and successful in business and has been a real innovator and thought leader around non-profit institutions. He shared that if he were to begin a secondary school anywhere in the country he would want Cathy Hall to be the head of it, which is high praise we have not forgotten. We also welcome esteemed heads of school from the area, including Kerry Brennan, the head of Roxbury Latin School, Rosann Whiting, president of Ursuline Academy, Mary Leary, the head of the Sage School, and Brian Maher, the president of Nativity Prep.  We appreciate what it means for each of you to take time away from your schools, especially so early in the year. Please know how honored we are that you join us here today.

We also welcome a number of guests from the Nobles community, including current and former members of the Board of Trustees, past Presidents Bob Lawrence, Bob Morrison, Bob Bland, Fred Clifford, Jeff Grogan and their wives, Patsy, Gretchen, Marjorie, Barbara, and Kennie. I appreciate more than ever what each of you has done and given to Noble and Greenough School, and all that you continue to do. Thank you for joining us in today’s celebration.

Last but not least, we are thrilled and touched that our prior heads of school, Dick Baker and Bob Henderson are here, as well as members of the families of Eliot Putnam and Ted Gleason, our third and fourth heads of school. For decades, these families were the backbone of this community.  For you, Rita and Charlie Putnam, to be here, for Liza and Sarah Gleason to be here, helps reaffirm the ties our present has to our past and assures that we never lose our sense of identity.  Thank you for the generous gift of your time and please know how dearly Nobles will always hold you in its heart. This will always be your home.

It is important for all of us to understand the context for Dr. Hall’s formal installation into the role of our seventh head of school. Noble and Greenough School was founded one year after the Civil War’s conclusion, in 1866, by George Washington Copp Noble, who was a graduate of Exeter and Harvard who sought to develop a secondary school in their model. He led the school for a remarkable 53 years and was succeeded by Charles Wiggins 2nd, who began his tenure in 1920 and served as head for 23 years. Mr. Wiggins oversaw the move out of Boston to our campus here in Dedham, until his death in 1943.  Amidst the second world war, the Board of Trustees turned to its beloved, star teacher and coach, Eliot Putnam.  Mr. Putnam loomed large on the Nobles campus. He was the consummate teacher/coach, who believed in the value of well-rounded young people who, at Nobles, would learn to grow into leaders of prominence. He valued those teachers who proved themselves good school people, meaning that they were not only excellent teachers in the classroom but they also coached and mentored students in the afternoon program, and did all else to live and breathe the life of campus schoolmasters.

As the school moved away from the tumultuous 1960s and ushered a new era, which included the shift of the school to co-education, after nearly thirty years as head of school, Mr. Putnam was succeeded by the Rev. Edward S. Gleason. Mr. Gleason, who also came to Nobles from Exeter, was a man of towering intellect and a charismatic speaker. In the tradition of the leaders who came before him, he believed in the immense power of teachers and the community they could build, one that felt like family to the students who inhabited it.  Mr. Gleason sought out teachers who “had a significant and burning passion for what they did, people who “had significant life-giving values, passions, interests, areas of meaning, grounds upon which they stood, which mattered enormously to them and which they wanted to give away”  to the young people in their care. Today, many of the mainstays of the Nobles faculty, who have provided tremendous leadership and continuity of the school, were hired by Mr. Gleason— Mr. and Mrs. Harrington, Mr. Nickerson, Mr. Kehlenbeck, Ms. Harrison, Mr. Carey and Mr. Baker, to name just a few. 

When Mr. Gleason stepped down, Nobles began working with a search consultant to find his successor.  In short order, the search consultant admitted that it would be robbing Nobles of money by undertaking a search because the best candidate for head of school was already doing the job. Richard H. Baker, longtime English teacher, department head, athletic coach, and director of studies had served as acting head of school during Mr. Gleason’s sabbatical. Although he professed no ambition for the job, he was thrust into the role and urged to do it. His influence on the school was dramatic and lasting. Borrowing the best lessons from his predecessors about values and mission, Mr. Baker also sought to enhance the reputation and strength of the school, particularly in the academic arena, which fundamentally changed the institution for generations to come. He asked us if we could settle for anything less than being the best school in America, and challenged us to define what that meant.  He imposed the discipline of metrics and measurable outcomes while recognizing that the cornerstone of the institution was the magic of mentoring relationships between adults in young people, a community in which the adults inevitably teach themselves and inspire young people to reach their potential. He also insisted that we never lose our humor, with his own exaggerated laugh often setting the tone.

Most recently, of course, the school was led by Robert P. Henderson.  In some cases, three months may not be long enough to reflect on one’s legacy. With Mr. Henderson, however, we see the imprint of his leadership everywhere we look. Immediately, he improved teacher compensation and support, financial aid was expanded, the endowment grew by leaps and bounds, the diversity of the student body became richer and more nuanced, the boarding program was revitalized, commitment to the arts and community service was amplified, student health and wellness came into sharp focus, and experiential education became a fundamental part of our mission, just to name some of the highlights of the Henderson era.  Mr. Henderson navigated the community through brutally hard times.  Ultimately, his re-articulation of the Nobles mission as one that prepares young people for leadership for the public good married our storied past with our ambitious eyes to the future. Mr. Henderson’s ability to thrive in his role for 17 years proved a living embodiment of the mission in action.

Dr. Hall’s chapter has yet to be written. A hallmark of Nobles' history has been that at each key moment in transition, Nobles has always chosen the right person at the right time. The Board of Trustees knows that to be true in the appointment of you, Dr. Hall. as Nobles' seventh head of school. Your winning combination of smarts, character, intuition, humility, compassion, and humor has been evident to all who have met you. It also sets you in the mold of the outstanding leaders who came before you and were entrusted with this great institution. Knowing you are at the helm of a community that has meant so much to so many for so long is an awesome responsibility, to be sure. It is clear that you have embraced it. Please accept today’s ceremony as a symbol that everyone in this room today and many more who are not, stand ready to support you in your endeavor. We are honored and thrilled that you chose to come to us.  We are excited by the promise of your leadership. Nobles’ future has never looked brighter. 

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