A Tale of Two Letters
To many in today’s digital generation, writing letters is a quaint ritual from a long-gone age. But for W. Alan Dayton ’43, a former trustee who died last September at age 92, correspondence was a skill that proved pivotal in shaping his life—and in shaping the future of Williston.
Alan arrived at Williston from the public schools of Long Island, NY, and soon fell into a pattern of admittedly “rather bad” behavior that resulted in his dismissal after his first year. To get reinstated, he had to write a formal letter to his headmaster, Archibald Galbraith, requesting another chance. The letter, along with some behind-the-scenes support from teacher and coach Frank Bell, proved effective. Alan would go on to serve as editor-in-chief of the Willistonian (another stubborn survivor from the pre-digital age), then graduate, attend Cornell University, serve in the Navy during World War II, and eventually achieve a great deal of success as a real estate developer in the Bahamas and Florida.
In 1992, fifty-two years after pleading his case to Headmaster Galbraith, Alan was serving as a Williston trustee when he wrote another significant letter—this time inviting alumni to become charter members of a planned-giving program he had just helped launch. Again, Alan’s words proved persuasive, and the Elm Tree Society was born.
Now, more than a quarter century later, Alan’s personal support for the school in the form of a $750,000 unrestricted bequest is helping build the new dormitory and residential quad on campus. And his far-sighted leadership in establishing the Elm Tree Society, which now boasts more than 200 members, has created a vehicle that promises to ensure the school’s continued growth and success for generations to come.
“I’ve always been grateful to Williston for putting up with me,” he commented a few years ago. “The school prepared me for life.” And now, thanks to the Elm Tree Society, that appreciation for Williston lives on.
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