The following speech was delivered during an event to celebrate the retirement of Assistant Head of School Ann Pickrell and Academic Dean Greg Tuleja on June 9, 2022. More here.
First I would like to thank Tammy for pulling all of this together. I’m impressed with the turnout, and I must say that sitting in a comfy chair with a cold beer and listening to people say flattering things about you, has been, so far, quite an appealing way to pass the time.
I am very happy to say a few words about Ann. I arrived at Williston in September of 1983, and it was the first time I had set foot on a private school campus. I had to learn mysterious and arcane phrases like PG and Double Secret Probation and yes, Student Smoking Area. In the music department, my most important mentor in those first few years was the legendary and well-remembered Dick Gregory, and on the boarding side, my biggest and best influence was Ann Pickrell.
When we met in 1983, Ann was several years younger than I was, and I believe she still is, at least she looks it. I felt unprepared and unqualified to be in charge of 75 sophomore and junior boys, before they built the wall in Mem Dorm, and before the faculty apartments were classified as suitable for human habitation. Ann’s obvious competence, confidence and expertise as a dorm parent in John Wright was a superlative model for me. I could tell that she was in charge, in all the good sense of that phrase. Ann’s poise, authority and always gracious intention toward the students was fully on display. Following her example, and by taking her generous advice to me, I learned to seek the balance that Ann seemed to effortlessly demonstrate. As she once explained to me, in a conversation in front of the old gym that she probably does not remember, “the boarding students deserve to be treated by us with understanding and respect, but our job is also to keep them in line. They, and their families, deserve that from us.” Striving to find that sweet spot in our varied dealings with teenagers, that is, trying, simultaneously, to be something like a boss and something like a friend, has been at the heart of everything that I have attempted to accomplish with our students for the past 39 years, and my education for this started with Ann Pickrell. When I was appointed to run Conant House in 1985-1986 (one of the wise decisions that Denny Grubbs made back in the 1980s), my charge was, in part, to establish a stricter, more controlled culture in a girls dorm of about 35 students. Ann was well on her way to instituting similar reforms in John Wright, and today, I remain proud to have been part of a group of dorm heads who took seriously Denny’s aspiration to tame the wild west in our dormitories. Ann was the leader in that endeavor, and she was my role model, confidant, and always trusted colleague.
Rick Francis gave me my first coaching assignment, in September of 1983, and just as Ann Pickrell was the go-to person for me regarding dorm life, there she was again, as head coach of varsity field hockey and varsity lacrosse. I kept my eyes open, and I grew to admire Ann’s rapport and authority at practices and games. The way she ran her team, with such easy authority, was something for me to aspire to as a new head coach, who was eager but clueless. In the decades that followed, Ann in the Homestead and I in the Schoolhouse were frequent collaborators on a variety of school issues, and I always felt that I had a strong, valuable, like-minded ally in Ann Pickrell.
Since we are both leaving at the same time, we can only hope that the school will suffer a dramatic and immediate collapse next year, but alas, in my heart I know that is not likely to happen. I do know that Ann’s legacy of consummate professionalism, a principled and practical belief in the importance of the academic program at the school, and her stalwart, unwavering interest and affection for our students, will remain part of the fabric of the school. She will leave behind much to those who follow, and it has been a true privilege to work with her. Congratulations Ann.