The Headmaster (& Chuck Berry)

If everything is indeed derivative, many of us never know it.  Take those kids jamming on their guitars down in the Student Union.  If I told them that they’re practicing Chuck Berry licks, they’d probably respond with, “Yeah… so who’s Chuck Berry?”

Even the operation of boarding schools is derivative.  Our Chuck Berry is a guy named Frank Boyden who served as headmaster at Deerfield Academy (MA) for 66 years.  (No, that’s not a misprint.)  Fresh out of Amherst in 1902, Boyden began his first (and last) job, one he held until 1968.  During that time he wrote the book on everything from schedule to culture to discipline to sports to you-name-it.  Before my father founded Hyde, he went down and met with Boyden to get his thoughts.  John McPhee’s excellent biography on Boyden — a book I devoured as a 7th grader — is titled simply The Headmaster (1966).

Speaking of Chuck Berry, last January after seeing him perform on New Year’s Eve in NYC, I described his gift as one of “disarming simplicity.”  This might also describe Boyden.  In fact, he once described his formula this way: “Work ’em hard, play ’em hard, feed ’em up to the nines, and send ’em to bed so tired that they are asleep before their heads are on the pillow.”  Pretty simple, right?

The disarming part came with the depth of understanding he accrued over the years.  Early in my career, one of his quotes stopped me in my tracks: “I never reprimand a boy in the evening – darkness and a troubled mind are a poor combination.”  First, I wondered if that’s true.  Second, I realized, Wow! This guy is thinking about this stuff at a much deeper level than I am.  Maybe I should try to do the same. 

While I can see Boyden’s influence all over Hyde, there’s one facet in particular.  During his 66 years, he expelled only half a dozen kids.  He used to say, “A boy is more important than a rule.”  (Note: Deerfield  was an all-boys school on his watch.)  When asked to characterize the handful he did expel, he observed that he had looked in their eyes and had been unable to discern any level of remorse, intimating that their attitudes went beyond mischief.  He felt that it was his lot to deal with mischief rather than to expel it.  Yup.

Onward,  Malcolm Gauld