A Sense of Purpose


Why Paul Wainwright ’68 gives back to the place that sparked his passion for photography

On Sunday mornings, hours before other students were awake, Paul Wainwright ’68 was in Williston’s darkroom, printing the pictures he’d taken the week prior. The Willistonians submission deadline loomed each Sunday evening, and Wainwright wanted to share his best images. He’d pause for breakfast, then hurry back to the darkroom to finish just in time for Chapel. “I was one of the least athletic people in the school,” Wainwright recalls. “In order to fit in, I became the school photographer.”

Before Wainwright attended Williston, teachers would criticize him for being lazy or day-dreaming in class. The truth: He was dyslexic, although he wouldn’t make this connection until his 30s. Having the time, space, and encouragement at Williston to learn photography was transformative, as was realizing that he could achieve hard things—like committing to the grueling schedule of a young photographer on deadline. “Williston gave me the spark of inspiration and the energy to accomplish things that I didn’t know I had within my powers,” he said. He took this spark and ran with it, earning a bachelor’s degree in physics from Bucknell University, and a master’s and Ph.D. from Yale, before working for Bell Labs for 24 years. “Thus proving,” he laughs, “that I was not lazy. And Bell Labs paid me a lot of money to daydream.”

When he retired from Bell Labs in 2001, Wainwright focused again on photography. His work has been featured in solo exhibitions and showcased in numerous galleries and museums. His photography book A Place for Faith documents the colonial meetinghouses of New England. “Photography has always been my expressive outlet,” he said. “Access to the darkroom all those years ago changed my life.”

As his career evolved, Williston remained “an anchor point,” inspiring him to stay connected as a volunteer for the Class of 1968’s 50th and 55th Reunion efforts. “I was an only child, and I consider Williston to be my home, and my classmates to be my brothers,” he said. “Helping organize Reunions is like getting in touch with my brothers and saying, ‘Hey, come on back. I’d like to see you.’” This past June, Wainwright accepted the Daniel and Jane Carpenter Award on behalf of the Reunion Committee (see page 61). Along with offering his time, Wainwright has made Williston a philanthropic priority. He recently established the Paul F. ’68 and Philip B. ’23 Wainwright Financial Aid Fund for BIPOC Students. “I’ve realized that I was very privileged at Williston, and that some people in our society have not had the same opportunities,” he said. “A family’s financial abilities should not be a limiting factor.” He’s also a member of all three giving societies—1841 Society, Green & Blue Loyalty Society, and Elm Tree Society—donating to the school for the last 28 consecutive years, and he’s documented an estate gift. “When I turned 70, I started thinking about what I wanted to leave behind,” he said. “It’s natural, given my life-changing experience at Williston, that I would want to support the school financially. It’s a no-brainer.