Teachers of Webb
We can all agree that the teachers made a major impact on every student’s experience. To that end, the Alumni Council invites you to share a favorite story or remembrance of a Webb teacher, current or former, to be added to the school archives. Some of these stories are reflected here.
As we gear up for Webb’s centennial celebration in 2022, the Alumni Council invites all members of the Webb community to participate in the Teachers of Webb Project.
Faculty legend, alumnus, and friend Rick Whyte ’57 passed away on July 28,. 2013. Rick devoted his life to Webb – beginning in his 8th grade year in the summer of 1952. After graduating Webb in 1957 and attending Amherst College, Rick returned to campus as the last teacher hired by Thompson Webb before his retirement in 1962.
Rick filled a myriad of roles during his 41-year Webb career. Prior to retiring in 2002, he taught English, Latin and history; served the community as dorm head, registrar, dean of students, college counselor, and assistant athletic director and coached baseball and basketball. The 1970 El Espejo was dedicated to Rick and sums up his years of service beautifully: “He toils and sweats for a better Webb life.”
This past December the annual Vivian Webb Basketball Tournament was renamed in his honor – the Rick Whyte ’57 VWS Basketball Tournament. During the dedication ceremony, Head of Schools Taylor Stockdale remembered Rick for his love of the school and for his devotion and care of his former teacher, Ray Alf. In Ray’s later years, each morning, Rick walked with him around campus; he cared for him in every way. Stockdale said, “This is a fitting tribute to a man who has poured his passion and sweat into this place for the majority of the school’s life.”
A top academic performer, Rick was one of five seniors who graduated in 1957 having attended Webb since 8th grade. He was an avid sportsman playing forward on the basketball team for four years, second baseman on the baseball team for three years, and serving as manager of the football team for four years. Rick also played the flute in the school orchestra all five years and began his lifelong hobby of stamp collecting.
Rick was a long-standing member of the Rotary Club and in 2009 the Claremont Committee on Aging presented him with the Josephine Smith Award for service to seniors.
Rick is survived by his brother Ron ’60, sister-in-law Ann, a niece and nephew and four grand nieces and nephews.
A special memorial service took place on August 10, 2013, in the Vivian Webb Chapel with family, faculty and friends.
Blair Maffris in Joshua Tree National Park in the spring of 2012. Photo by Ryan Au ’12.
Blair Maffris taught art at Webb for over 35 years. He started as a part-time art teacher in 1978 and joined the faculty full-time in 1981. In addition to being chair of the Fine Arts Department for many years, he chaperoned the senior boys on countless Grand Canyon trips, coached the WSC varisty soccer team, led numerous surf trips and weekend trips to Joshua Tree, and was an advisor, formally and informally, to many students during his tenure at Webb. He was recognized with the Jean E. Miller Award in 2000 and a Perry Award in 2006 for his outstanding dedication to teaching. Mr. Maffris and his wife are the proud parents of two WSC graduates, Chris ’96 and Kevin ’00. To culminate his impressive career at Webb, Mr. Maffris was the 2015 WSC commencement speaker. Read what former student Richard Garcia ’87 has to say about his art teacher and mentor, Mr. Blair Maffris:
“Mr. Maffris walked like a pendulum, gently rocking left and right, and in those days, a tuft of blonde hair wafted above his neck. When he spoke, his strong hands gestured in a complementary language, conveying a physical subtext to the conversation. They’d naturally come to rest in a Buddhist pose, as if holding an electron in perfect stillness between his thumb and index finger. He trained me how to see, taught me how to surf, and showed me how to turn “mistakes” into a discovery. Blair Maffris: art guide.”
The Great Ones: Gordon and Mollie Wilson
We remember with fondness and gratitude the lives of Gordon A. Wilson and Mollie C. Wilson, forever part of Webb’s history. Mr. Wilson passed away in 1974 and Mrs. Wilson lived many more years in Big Bear Lake, having recently passed away on June 13, 2017 just one month shy of her 105th birthday.
Mr. Wilson was a graduate of Pomona College with a MA degree from Claremont Graduate School. He taught and was headmaster at the Norton School in Claremont for ten years before coming to Webb in 1938. His tenure at Norton and subsequently at Webb followed another great master, Ramsay Harris. It was at Norton that he met Mollie Clyde, a fellow faculty member. The couple was married shortly after arriving at Webb and together they raised five children on campus. Their two sons, Gordon ’59 and Tom ’65 attended the school and Gordon ’59 taught here for a time.
Gordon A. Wilson served as a master teacher and scholar for thirty years and as a trustee following his teaching career for five more years. He taught English, the classics, and ancient history, and also served as dean, assistant to the headmaster, and leader of the school orchestra. He was a talented musician and played the organ in the Vivian Webb Chapel as well as the viola with such groups as the Claremont Civic Symphony and the Pomona College Orchestra.
The Wilsons loved to travel and inspired students to experience the world first hand. In 1958, they spent a full year traveling Europe with their five children. They also hosted students from around the world in their campus home and were involved in the local community serving such organizations as Pilgrim Place and the Claremont Chapter of the American Red Cross. They championed students in need and supported the school’s earliest scholarships. When Mr. Wilson passed away, Mrs. Wilson endowed the Gordon A. Wilson Scholarship Fund in his memory.
Michael Parmer taught French and Spanish at Webb from 1977-1992 and was the Foreign Language Department Chair for many years. Aside from teaching, Mr. Parmer was the Director of Work Crew and could often be found supervising students as they completed their tasks. He also added Webb parent to his list of titles when his son Benjamin became a member of Webb’s Class of 1991.
Here’s what former student Kip Konwiser ’81 has to say about one of his favorite Webb teachers, Mr. Michael Parmer:
“Mr. Parmer was unafraid to teach unconventionally when he saw inspiration come to a student in less convential circumstances. I was such a student with French in that I required a less structured environment than a classroom. Mr. Palmer shifted the class to his home on campus where his wife would cook from a French cookbook, we’d read sophisticaled French literature and speak entirely in French as if we were artisans on the French countryside whiling our hours in deep dialogue in a language in which somehow I became instantly fluent only when I crossed his magical threshold. His lessons taught me the magic of believing in alternative methods of success and these invluences have guided my life ever since.”
Kip Konwiser ’81 is an award-winning producer and director in music, film and television. Credits include Miss Evers’ Boys (HBO) which remains one of the most awarded movies in the history of television including a Best Picture Emmy and the NAACP Image Award; as well as On Hallowed Ground (TNT) which also won a Best Picture Emmy for his work as co-writer/producer/director with his lifetime collaborator & brother, Kern Konwiser.
Interview with Jim Hall ’59
Jim Hall ’59 recounts his Webb days with personal stories and recollections, from chapel visits with his father to peccary trips as a student with Ray Alf. Hall narrates what campus life was like back in the 1950s, remembering the “extraordinary,” “astonishing,” and “intellectually engaged” faculty whom he had the honor of being their student.
Many teachers made an impression on Hall. Ray Alf, Murray Alexander, ancient history with Larry McMillin, Fred Burr, comparative religion with Ramsay Harris and English with John Iverson. He also remembers trips to McDonald’s and concert outings with Fred Hooper and his wife Grace.
Jim Hall is a professor of physiology and biophysics at the University of California Irvine. Before joining the faculty at UC Irvine, he was a postdoctoral fellow at California Institute of Technology and an Assistant Professor of Physiology at Duke University Medical Center. Jim has served on the Alumni Council since 2004 and his most recent work involves the Teachers of Webb project. In 2014, he was the recipient of the Colborn Distinguished Service Award for his distinguished and significant volunteer service to Webb and the Alf Museum. While at Webb, Jim was Student Body President, an honor committeeman, and the co-editor of El Espejo. He also played football, basketball, and baseball. Jim resides in Laguna Beach, California with his wife Jean.
D. Murray Alexander: Physics is Phun!
Written by Jim Hall ’59
Mr. Alexander started out his Junior Physics class at Webb by writing “Physics is Phun!” on the blackboard. (Yes, we had blackboards in the ‘50s, and they worked, no batteries, plenty of chalk dust!) And Physics was fun in Mr. Alexander’s classroom beneath the old lower dorm.
D. Murray Alexander was born in St. Andrews Scotland, so he was a Brit but never an Englishman! His father was also a teacher, and Murray spent the first ten years of his life in Durban South Africa where his father was headmaster of the Durban technical college. He graduated from St Andrews University with honors in Physics in 1938, just in time to serve with distinction in the RAF as a squadron leader flying coastal weather missions. In 1946 Murray came to California and Caltech. He graduated with a master’s in physics, was elected to Sigma Xi and met his to-be wife, Evelyn (not necessarily in order of importance.)
As an accomplished pilot Murray took Evelyn on their first date to lunch in the San Fernando Valley by flying her there in a small two-seater airplane!
Murray became head of the science department at Webb in the 1950s and single-handedly built the adobe house he, Evelyn and the Alexander children lived in during their tenure at Webb.
Murray was an inspiring teacher. He had wonderful demonstrations. The dramatic demonstration of the conservation of angular momentum was hard to forget. Murray would get a student volunteer (or a volunteered student!) to hold a weighted bicycle wheel fitted with handgrips extending from the axel. He sat the student on a swivel chair and spun the bicycle wheel up with a motor drive. He then asked the student to rotate the plane of the wheel from vertical to horizontal, and of course the student began to spin around in the swivel chair. You could feel the resistance of the wheel to being rotated, and as a side benefit understand the principle of the gyroscope!
Of course there were many other demonstrations. Some did not go so well! Murray had devised a beautiful demonstration of static electricity, which he combined with a demonstration of the workings of the internal combustion engine. He had set up a static electricity generator (called a Wimshurst machine) on the lab bench and nearby had a Bunsen burner connected to a gas supply valve overhead on the low ceiling. He had a student come up and crank the generator handle to charge the Leyden jar capacitor attached to it. With the gas turned on, but with the burner not lit, he put one hand on the terminal of the Leyden jar and snapped a spark from his other hand to the grounded Bunsen burner. The gas burst in to flame to great applause from the class. After this curtain raiser there was a lecture on voltage, charge, ignition temperature, and the workings of the generator.
All went well until near the end of the hour, the class clamored for a repeat of the spectacular demonstration. Mr. Alexander, ever the gracious Scot, complied. The student was summoned to crank the generator. The hand was placed on the Leyden jar, and the spark was snapped at the Bunsen burner. Nothing. The spark was snapped again. Still nothing. “Mr Alexander, you forgot to turn on the gas!” offered one helpful soul in the front.
Mr Alexander nodded and reached up to the overhead valve, which was of course attached to a grounded pipe. The result was spectacular! Mr Alexander’s hair, normally slicked down to elegant perfection, stood straight out from his head and radiated sparks, demonstrating just how to charge a conductor filled with salt water to a high voltage and what happens when you do that! Mr Alexander, consummate teacher that he was, discharged himself, took his hand off the Leyden jar, smoothed his hair, turned on the gas, and did an encore performance of the demonstration. We all knew that indeed “Physics was phun.”
Mr. Alexander’s influence as a teacher was widespread while at Webb and after he left. He was part the development team of PSSC Physics, a modern approach to teaching high school physics that had a profound effect on many students. He left Webb in the 60s and became a Professor at De Anza College in Cupertino. He also taught Physics all over the world in India, Sweden, and Turkey.
Murray was a keen athlete (captain of the rugby, swim and golf teams while he was at St Andrews) and an excellent tennis player. He retired from active teaching at age 70, and was ranked number 1 in the Northern California Tennis Association in the 75 to 80 bracket.
As we prepare for the Centennial celebration in 2022, the Alumni Council is gathering and sharing stories about the teachers of Webb. We hope you enjoy this profile written by Jim Hall ’59, a former student of D. Murray Alexander who taught physics, geometry and math from 1947 to 1960. Murray passed away in 2009 at the age of 93, survived by his wife Evelyn and their three children. – Rahmi Mowjood ’90, President, Alumni Council
Dave Facett ’61 with his wife, Diane Wilsdon
Interview with David Fawcett ’61
Watch alumnus and former faculty member David Fawcett ’61 describe how he came to Webb as a student and then as a teacher. Fawcett recalls how the presence of girls on campus changed the school (and the boys) and he shares his thoughts on what he views as the most valuable feature of Webb – the honor code.
David Fawcett ’61 was a faculty member in Webb’s history department for almost 40 years before retiring in 2014. As a student, David was best known for his interests in politics and current affairs, subjects he taught throughout his tenure. A competitive debater, he was not afraid to push his students to think outside the box and outside the classroom, often using current technology to teach historical ideas. During his time at Webb, David wore many hats, from “dorm daddy” to teacher to wrestling coach and beyond. To quote one of his students, “My Fawcett is just plain awesome.” He is enjoying retirement with his wife, former Webb math teacher, Diane Wilsdon.
The Pauwels Family at Alumni Weekend
Students who experienced French class with Jacques Pauwels or enjoyed the warm and gracious hospitality of Jacques and his wife Mimi in their home on the Webb campus throughout the 1970s, 80s and 90s, remember a family that happily and generously provided a “home-away-from-home” for scores of boarding students, and a teacher who encouraged and motivated his students to appreciate the value of learning another language.
“It’s hard to point out a single memory about Jacques because there are so many,” said Grant Cramer ’79, president of Landafar Entertainment. “When Jacques arrived at Webb during my freshman year, he was a true original. He was so open and friendly towards his students that he was really more like an older brother or friend rather than a teacher. Jacques was ‘cool.’ We would routinely gather at Jacques’ home for refreshments and to listen to his world class stereo system and having his son, Eric, in our class, made him all the more accessible. It was almost like he and Mimi just added us all into their family. And Jacques made it fun to learn French. When he announced his 6 week bus tour of France over the summer between my freshman and sophomore year, I couldn’t wait to sign up and that trip is still one of the fondest memories of my life…traveling from town to town, staying in hostels, exploring the Louvre and cafés in Paris, walking the beaches in Normandy, swimming in the ocean at Nice, even seeing the amazing Sarah Vaughn at the Roman Coliseum in Nîmes.”
Michael McDermott ’83 also shared his appreciation for Jacques’ influence: “Mr. Pauwels had a profound impact on my life (and I’m guessing he never knew it). He made learning to speak a second language, and understanding another culture, very attractive.”
Today, McDermott who went on to learn Chinese, lives and works in China as the co-founder and Executive Producer of Gung-Ho Films, the leading production services company in Mainland China and Hong Kong.
“The decision to go to China to learn Chinese completely changed my life and destiny,” he added. “And that decision can be directly traced back to Mr. Pauwels and his influence on me at Webb.”
Claudia Marcus ’85 recalled Pauwels as “an entertaining teacher” who was best known for his summer trips to Paris and the gummy bears that he would bring back.
And Christopher Kimm ’86 who is a managing director at Deutsche Bank and Head of Deutsche Asset Management in Korea recollected a teacher who not only inspired his pupils to value the significance of learning second language, but who also shared with his students his pastimes and hobbies.
“I remember Jacques being an avid automobile enthusiast who lovingly restored some classic Mercedes-Benz sports cars from the 1960s,” said Kimm. “Through that exposure, I have learned to appreciate not only the performance of an object, but also its design aesthetic.”
For these students, and scores of others, Pauwels was a much-loved mentor. But one student in particular had the rare opportunity to watch his Dad at work.
Eric Pauwels ’79 was 14 when he moved to his mom and dad’s place of employment – into a faculty home on the campus of Webb School of California.
Eric’s parents, Jacques and Mimi, were beloved figures at Webb for nearly two decades.
In 2016, Eric honored his parents’ dedication and service to the Webb community with a generous endowment for The Jacques and Mimi Pauwels Fund for Excellence in World Languages and Cultures. The gift will provide, in perpetuity, funds for teacher and student development in the area of World Languages and Cultures.
Eric had just graduated from middle school in Fountain Valley when his parents made the move to Claremont. Jacques was teaching at Golden West College in Huntington Beach, when the president of the school at the time contacted him. Dr. R. Dudley Boyce, a Webb of James Boyce ’75, knew of an opening at Webb and suggested to Jacques that he apply for the job. After meeting with then Headmaster Steven Longley, Jacques accepted the position and moved his young family to campus; he recalled that the family moved their belongings from Fountain Valley to Claremont with the help of Webb teachers Mike Blair, Bill Ripley, John Heyes and Roy Bergeson … and the Webb dump truck. It was the summer of 1975.
“I was not prepared to be an advisor to children,” said Jacques, describing the teenagers under his care. But he and his wife grew to love the experience.
“Students were in our home all the time,” he said as he and his wife both smiled. “We loved these kids, they were so open.”
Tanya Newkirk ’87 remembers the guidance and support of both Pauwels: “Let us not forget dear Mimi with her sparkling eyes and equally infectious smile, her lovely French-inflected English and her laughter. Mimi was always there with a yummy French treat and a hug for Jacques’ students.”
The Pauwels befriended other faculty families including the Ripleys and the Alfs.
“Two faculty members have a special place in my heart,” said Jacques. “Ken Monroe and Les Perry were both mentors to me. During ‘On Duty’ night duties, I received a lot of advice from them.”
Jacques also happily recalled his work as a class advisor, especially to the class of 1990 when he worked with Rahmi Mowjood’s ’90 mother, Rehana.
“We spent time on class projects and became good friends,” said Rehana. “I remember visiting with the Pauwels often; they had a big music collection – they were so friendly and warm, we would end up sitting and chatting for hours in their home.”
For Eric, the experience of living on campus with his parents had its pros and cons. “I saw every day what they were doing,” he explained with a chuckle, “but they also saw what I was doing!”
In reflecting on his time at Webb, Eric said, “sometimes it’s not till later that you realize what an impact a place like Webb had on you. It’s been almost 40 years since my parents made the decision to become part of the Webb community – I didn’t think about it until much later in life, but they offered me an opportunity to learn and thrive.”
Eric was born in France and immigrated with his parents to the United States when he was 5 years old. Though the family was multi-lingual at home (Mimi was born in Algeria, at the time, a French colony, and Jacques was born in Paris), Eric continued with his studies in French at Webb. Jacques and Mimi also led multiple summer and semester abroad trips for students to France.
“I had a conversation with Steve Longley – for him, the ‘world was the campus,’” said Jacques. “It was then that the idea of the semester abroad was born.”
The first group departed in September 1976 for Geneva, Switzerland, and settled in the tiny community of Veyrier-du-Lac in the Rhône-Alpes region in south-eastern France. A teaching assistant from Cal Poly Pomona taught the Webb students algebra and geometry in English. Each student resided with a French family, with the stay extending from September to mid-January. The program lasted 3 years and created lasting memories, shaping students thinking about second languages and French culture.
“It was Jacques who ignited my love of French language and culture that lasts to this day, not just in the classroom but beyond, by introducing me to the land and people of France,” explained Newkirk, who today is the Associate Director of International Education at Millsaps College. “That summer program, with its month of intense French language classes – five hours per day taught by experienced native instructors – and living at the beautiful, modern international school perched on the hill at Sophia Antipolis in the South of France, was incredibly hard yet infinitely rewarding. I will never forget the group flying into Switzerland, taking the train to the South of France, settling in to the stunning campus, with Jacques’ guided field trips to the lavender fields of Provence, the port at St. Tropez, the boulevards and beaches of Nice … then the drive north to Dijon, with Jacques as our chauffeur, to spend our last week in the dazzling capital of Paris.”
For the Pauwels, a love of languages was not just a hobby, it was essential. Mimi speaks French, Spanish, and Arabic. Jacques was a young boy growing up in Morocco during World War II, and Mimi was in French-speaking north Africa. When Eric and his brother Mike were growing up, the Pauwels spoke French in their home.
“With the globalization of business and technology, it’s very important to know more than one language,” said Jacques, “look at my son – he’s in Belgium, France and China, and travels frequently to places like Argentina and Brazil.”
Eric has worked in executive management roles for pharmaceutical companies around the world. He is currently the senior vice president and general manager for commercial operations in for the Americas at PTC Therapeutics, Inc., responsible for launching innovative orphan drugs (for rare diseases such as Duchenne muscular dystrophy and cystic fibrosis, in many cases where no treatment for the disease is available). He has previously worked at Shire, Bayer Pharmaceuticals, and Johnson and Johnson and other pharmaceutical companies for the past 33 years in the United States, Europe and Asia.
“The rubber really hits the road – so to speak – when you actually use the language,” explained Eric. “It’s through language that a culture is understood – it gives you a competitive advantage. People have a broader perspective, and do better in business if they have another language.”
Newkirk agrees: “The love and passion for the French language and culture that was instilled in me at Webb has come full circle in my work as the Associate Director of International Education at Millsaps College. As the main study abroad advisor for the College, I have the pleasure of sending my students out into the world so that they may have the same kind of life-changing experience I was afforded at such a young age.”
Eric established the endowment for The Jacques and Mimi Pauwels Fund for Excellence in World Languages and Cultures because he said it is important to provide a legacy – for the school as well as for his parents.
“So many people tell me that their lives were positively impacted by their interactions with my parents,” explained Eric – especially the students who remember animated French classes with his father, or his mother’s tutoring sessions with homemade crepes for an afternoon bite.
During his senior year, Eric actually lived in the Alamo dorm.
“It was a great feeling of independence,” he said. “But I could still run back to their house and get a snack!”
And through reunions and other forms of alumni communication, Eric still hears how much his parents’ warmth and sincerity meant to other students.
Julia Marciari-Alexander ’85 was in the first class of women to attend Webb.
“Jacques had to figure out how to teach girls – he was so used to just having boys in class – so he made a ‘straw man’ with a hat that we could refer to in the masculine tense,” she said. “He was so warm and friendly to me,” added Marciari-Alexander, “he made me feel like I was a super star in French and I credit him for the direction I went in – especially being a French major in college.”
Today, Marciari-Alexander who holds an M.A. in French Literature is the executive director of The Walter’s Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland.
Blair Brown ’79 recalls “learning to be ‘global’ in 1978 on summer and semester trips abroad with Jacques before, as he explained, global was a common term: “there are few teachers who truly make lasting impressions on and influence the maturation of students,” he said. “For me, Monsieur Pauwels was definitely the ONE! He always showed me how to work and strive hard – and enjoy life along the way.”
Alumni are effusive in their praise for Pauwels, but for Eric, the experience of living on campus with his parents was abided with mixed feelings.
“Of course, there was a good side and a bad side to having my parents live at my high school,” said Pauwels. “It created an interesting dynamic. My mom and dad knew all my teachers, and when my dad sat in faculty meetings, he – on more than one occasion – heard teachers say some pretty tough stuff about me, when I wasn’t a model student.”
With the funds from his endowment, teachers and students at Webb will broaden their awareness and understanding of different languages and cultures. Specifically, the funds will be used by teachers for professional development through attendance at academic conferences, study, abroad, release time for curriculum design, pursuit of graduate study, and much more. Students may also use the funds for international travel to further their immersion into their study of language and culture.
Jacques jokingly related a story about visiting his local doctor’s office: “During the exam, Dr. Metzler said to me, ‘you cost me a lot of money! My daughter enjoyed learning French from you so much that she went to the Sorbonne (University of Paris)!’”
But in all seriousness, Jacques believes that learning languages greatly enriches one’s experience in life.
“And,” he added, “it makes you understand your own language better and opens your mind to different cultures.”
Cramer said he learned conversational French during his year abroad with the Pauwels family.
“And every time I have an opportunity to visit France or even to speak a little French with friend or people I come across, I think of my teacher and my friend, Jacques Pauwels, and I smile a little inside,” he said.
With the Jacques and Mimi Pauwels Fund, the Webb community will continue its commitment to educating global leaders through the ongoing development of its faculty and students.
Head of Schools Taylor Stockdale is enthusiastic about the endowment’s forthcoming opportunities: “A gift of this magnitude will have a profound influence on the quality of teaching for our students and in enriching students’ experiences as they pursue the important work of learning world languages and becoming thoughtful global citizens. It helps ensure the continued strength of our faculty and students in this vitally important endeavor.”
The Protean Life of Ramsay Harris
Written by Thomas Butterworth ’63
My Dad is gone…
The subject line on the e-mail from the woman many of us knew as Laura Harris created one of those “Where were you when…?” moments for me. But the news was not a shock. After all, the man was 105 years old and I had seen him about 10 years before, confined to his bed in Santa Fe where he proclaimed “I am a happy man,” despite his reduced capacity for movement and hearing. Yet the man whose very existence had influenced my life for 47 years was gone. Images rolled in my mental bioscope and random thoughts took over of the man in the iconic photo holding an umbrella in the light rain. Gone was the man who convinced me I could learn Latin, whose extra help sessions I attended almost every day just to hear him talk, who played the musical saw, and who wrote music, poetry and drew amusing pictures…
My own thoughts later blurred with those of Webb classmates and other friends. I came to believe that no one single role he played in life could possibly define Ramsay because he had so many parts that he played so well. We knew him best as a teacher at Webb. He taught humanities. We learned humanity. The circumstances of his birth thrust onto him the role of emigrant and its attendant variety of experiences largely unavailable to others with conventional upbringings. His drive toward education and knowledge led him not only to a new country but it also led him to attend four institutions of higher learning and to teach at two. His intellect and curiosity allowed him to pursue three of his interests, poetry, music composition, and “gadgeteering” at what was, arguably, a professional level. He was also an amateur musician and cartoonist, which may have fed his reputation for eccentricity. However, it all started for us at the Webb School.
In fulfillment of his official duties at Webb, Ramsay taught history, English literature, Latin, and occasionally one of the Bible classes. Of course, he also performed the daily duties required of a faculty member at the time, presiding over study hall, serving as Officer of the Day, giving the occasional chapel talk and making himself available for nearly any activity that one or more students were enthused about. Who could forget Ramsay saying in study hall, “Gentlemen, sharpen your wits, not your pencils.”
Beyond what may have been his job description, he also taught many things not in our books: the death of the last passenger pigeon, the Cartesian diver, Laocoön, Frazer’s Golden Bough, and the use of geese as sentinels.
He taught us how to spell difficult words like “iridescent,” with their roots as well as some words in Hindustani (Hindi).
Ramsay taught us about books: it’s okay to write in your own books, and it is not necessary that a good Latin book be illustrated.
He taught us some math in Latin class, an easy way to square any number ending in 5. Later Ramsay became interested in a more complex mental multiplication method developed by a Russian engineer, Jakow Trachtenberg, to keep his mind busy while imprisoned.
Any description of Ramsay’s accomplishments while at Webb would be incomplete without mentioning some of the more unusual things he did. For example, he would give the same Latin exam as many as three times in a month. Of course, the grading was tougher each time, and it was amazing that these re-runs continued to surprise so many students. He marked as wrong any “i” that was not dotted. While handing out any exam, Ramsay was likely to say “Come on, gentlemen, a chicken can count to three!” No one ever explained what this meant. Some suspected that they were better off not knowing.
Ramsay had a way of making literature and history engage his students’ attention. In the course of studying Arrowsmith, he advised:
You young men keeping up a correspondence with similarly aged young women – beware the ones who draw little circles over their ‘i’s’ and ‘j’s,’ for they are as shallow as Madeline Fox.
Teaching about the reign of Henry IV, Ramsay said that Henry accepted four powers granted to Parliament. To stress the point, he added:
Some former students are surprised to learn that Ramsay was a Peccary man. However, word got around that riding with Ramsay in his 1952 Ford that he called “Henry” should be avoided if possible. Henry was quite slow and its occupants were fortunate to make it to Barstow by dinnertime.
A bit of a naturalist, Ramsay carried a pocketknife at Webb to dissect the occasional rattlesnake or owl pellet. Owl pellets were called “owl food-balls.” In India and in Burma, where venomous snakes abounded, Ramsay and his brother, Glen, had no compunctions about disposing of these reptiles in a typically Western manner whereas the local population was averse to killing anything:
A very large snake caused a sensation one morning by casually stopping by a water pot in the back yard and taking a leisurely drink. …the assumption was that someone would forthwith kill it on the basis that practically all the snakes in the Orient are poisonous. Our Buddhist cook objected. He said it was a “goo’ snake,” approached it at a respectful distance and shouted at it loudly, thwah! (go) and the snake agreeably crawled away.
Much later, Ramsay could sometimes joke about ethical treatment of animals. To a student punting a football by the Field House, he said, “…don’t you feel guilty kicking a pig’s bladder around like that?” Never mind that footballs had not been made with any parts of a pig for decades.
Alumni who visited Ramsay in his later years at Webb usually met his hummingbird friends. Ramsay would hold out his hand and extend a finger. Soon, a hummingbird would settle onto the finger and spend several minutes there, apparently just comfortably looking around. Ramsay never said how he had trained the birds (there were likely more than one), but used the moment to explain the value of concentration and appreciation of the world around you.
Another alum opined:
Ramsay and Ray Alf, in very different ways, shared the same deep respect, joy, miracle and passion of Nature, Life and Time. I wonder if and how they saw it in each other. They must have…
Language was almost an obsession. To illustrate the correct spelling of “all right,” he drew elaborate mountaintop towns called All and Right – “Notice the valley between them.” This illustration resembles Ramsay’s cum sandwich in magna cum laude.
He loved puns, the more excruciating, the better:
His sense of humor was at times opaque:
He finished with the characteristic laugh at his own jokes, a gentle “ho-ho-ho” behind hand over mouth.
Ramsay liked asking unanswerable questions. He asked one student to think about why English has words for yesterday and tomorrow and Hindi has only the word, kal, for both. The student’s blank look elicited only a chortle from Ramsay as he walked off.
Ramsay coached the Saturday panel talks. Once, a poor wight doing a talk on planetary astronomy accented the penultimate syllable in Uranus, causing Ramsay to spring to his feet, interrupting the boy, to stress heavily the antepenultimate. Ramsay also dispensed general advice. He did not like the speakers to hold their hands together in front of them, like a fig leaf. The instruction went something like, “Gentlemen, you remind me of our shy Paleolithic ancestors. You may put your hands at your sides. You are fully clothed.” He also advised speakers to memorize well the first sentence and the last sentence of the talk. One student took this advice to heart but could remember nothing else.
Ramsay had a great interest in ancient alphabets and languages. He designed a simple template and guide that would enable even the dullest of Webb students to write words in cuneiform. He also had some knowledge of hieroglyphics.
As freshman class advisor, Ramsay encouraged them to make some money selling palm trees in milk-carton pots during campus events. The classes also offered toasted cheese sandwiches and hot dogs with Ramsay’s special spicy powder that he referred to as je ne sais pas. It was widely suspected to be Lawry’s Seasoned Salt. Ramsay also served as faculty advisor to the Rifle Club.
An annual event during assembly was Ramsay’s recitation of the score of the latest Colgate-Syracuse football game. One morning in 1959, he announced, “Last week, Syracuse ‘edged’ Colgate in football, 71-0.” Syracuse went on to win the national championship that year. Few people are aware that Colgate was once a football power and had an intense rivalry with the larger Syracuse. In 1932, after Ramsay’s time at Colgate, the football team was unbeaten, untied, and unscored upon (and, as local wags had it, “uninvited” to the Rose Bowl). Colgate was ranked, variously, as high as #1 nationally that year. Pittsburgh played in the Rose Bowl that season and was clobbered by USC.
Ramsay used to write complimentary letters to parents of seniors whom he thought delivered good chapel talks. What he wrote were not quick notes, but rather letters in the old style.
At mealtime, he used to instruct his assistant waiters to fetch coffee and add cream until it was “…the color of the Irrawaddy River.” Was anyone brave enough to partake from the jar of chili peppers he kept at his table?
He always had something to say that would relate to what you were doing or even thinking. A common descriptor for Ramsay is “always curious.”
Ramsay formed many enduring friendships with Webb alumni. Yet he was very much an Englishman of the 19th Century. He grew up in a place that had something called a bioscope that showed films of the day and he called a mimeograph a hectograph. He disliked aimless whistling or pointless noise of any sort. A student dropping his books in class would have Ramsay predicting that the boy might be headed for work at a dynamite factory. He used to advise, “Ignorance is not taxable, but you don’t have to advertise it.” Advice on personal hygiene consisted of the admonition “Use your sock,” if he saw a student wiping his nose with anything but a handkerchief.
On the train from Rochester to Redlands in 1926, Ramsay succumbed to a silent and amusing petulance over one of his fellow passengers:
It appears that he is a chap from England… …and is now on his way to Bombay. We chatted in the lunch room (sic) and he evinced a rather irritating way of addressing me as “my boy” although I am confident that he is my junior in years. …I returned to the train first, and determined that if his lordship was expecting any advances from me he was going to have another guess coming.
Even at this point in his life, clearly Ramsay would not become defined by a single vocation.
Ramsay Gooch Lord Harris was born in Dharwar India on Oct 4, 1900. His paternal grandmother’s maiden name was Gooch. His great-grandfather and grandfather had been surgeons in the British army and his father was a teacher and headmaster.
At age six, Ramsay discovered one of the pitfalls of education when be observed his older sister, Ruby, being berated unfairly by a teacher. Later, he wrote about the incident, “Education was beset with unpredictable and illogical hazards.” This trivial incident may have fostered in Ramsay a characteristically empathetic approach to his teaching.
Some four years later, the family moved to Burma for a better job awaiting his father. During this time, Ramsay became a stamp collector when his father gave him a packet of stamps. All three older children, Ramsay, Glen and Ruby became ardent stamp collectors. Even Ramsay’s father became interested. They used to send for approval sheets from England and the four of them would pore over each sheet, deciding which ones to buy.
Ramsay’s hobby would follow him throughout life, although it was not his habit to pay for stamps to collect. He first received correspondence from relatives in India, Burma and the United States. Later he would receive letters from old friends and younger Webb alumni who were traveling the globe. If the stamp were foreign, or even a bit unusual, the entire envelope (some with the letter inside) would go into a box for later attention. His collection did not seem to get much beyond the box stage, however.
At age 16, Ramsay served in Britain’s Indian Defense Forces in the Great War. Since Burma was so poor they could not afford rifles for training so he learned proper shooting technique using a broom. After the war, he and his brother studied Science and English for one year at Rangoon College. After Ramsay and Glen finished that year, they met with Dr. Stanley Baldwin, a missionary, Colgate alumnus, and previous acquaintance. Dr. Baldwin renewed an earlier pledge to fund their passage to the United States to attend Colgate. The brothers accepted the offer almost immediately.
Then only 19 years old, Ramsay wrote of their departure:
People who would come to know Ramsay later in his life would well recognize the style of his language and humor.
Student and Teacher
Ramsay graduated from Colgate University in upstate New York in 1923, with an English major, and Latin and Geology as minor subjects. He was a member of the Colgate rifle team (!) as well as Editor-in-Chief of The Willow Path, which was the Colgate literary magazine.
After graduation, Ramsay had a problem common to young people starting a career: he did not know what he should be doing. He originally wanted to be a doctor, but found the training too costly. He also wanted to be a minister, so after graduation, Ramsay attended Rochester Theological Seminary for two years. But he felt he could not afford that either, so he taught English for one year at East High School in Rochester and later decided to join his brother in California. He left Rochester by train June 21, 1926. Upon arrival, he bade a mental farewell to his traveling companions on the train, Ave atque vale!
His first job in California was teaching English at Redlands Junior High School and California seemed to agree with him. After one year at Redlands, Ramsay’s professional life began in earnest. In 1927, he secured a position as Instructor at Pomona College where he taught English and debate. Ramsay
Jean E. Miller In Memoriam
About his time in Claremont, Coach has countless favorite memories. “It was a great experience. I got so many opportunities because of Webb. I never imagined hiking the Grand Canyon, kayaking the Colorado River and climbing Mt. Baldy. I met many great people and made so many friends there with students and faculty.”
Kleinman, who produced the film, shared these comments: “It was a fun process. When COVID-19 hit, I contacted Dan, who works at our school, to do the narration for a short film titled, ‘My Name is Tanks.’ The video is from the perspective of our historical high school football stadium, which was once the home to the semi-professional Ironton Tanks (now Detroit Lions). Dan was absolutely amazing for the part and when some of his friends previewed the film, they asked if I would consider making a documentary on him.
“I’ve always thought a lot of Dan and when I spent time learning about the details of his story, I knew we had to do so. At that point, I started searching for video footage. Dan told me that nothing existed, so I had some ideas of using stock footage, but surprisingly I found a few things. I first found about four games from 1959 when he played for Ironton on 16mm. Of course, no one had a projector, so I ordered one, made some repairs, and was thrilled with what I had found. In fact, I have even more now, so I may update the film with better highlights. We just knew that we wanted to share his story.”