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Remembering Hawley Rogers P’82 GP’12, ’17: A Life of Purpose

 

Hawley Rogers was a man who changed countless lives for the better—not all at once with a grand gesture, but rather in a steady, intentional, and meaningful way, one student, one colleague, one friend at a time. Over the course of his life he vastly influenced all who knew him, helping young and old alike grow into the best versions of themselves. Hawley Rogers’ “garden” was independent schools, and the “plants” he nurtured were the multitude of students, faculty, and staff who had the good fortune to know him. In the words of long-time history teacher Maribeth Littlefield P’07, one of his many gifts was that “he saw things in us—talents, possibilities, potential—that we did not yet see in ourselves.” Hawley Rogers lived his life purposely, striving to see and bring out the best in everyone, and he was rewarded with their love and respect.

It all started in 1969, when a young Hawley Rogers and his wife, Wendy, along with their daughter Laura, sons Randy and Paul, and the family dog made their way to Maryland and Oldfields School, where Hawley would be teaching English. It was the first step of an extraordinary 28-year journey in which Hawley would devote most of his adult life to Oldfields, becoming a surrogate parent to hundreds of students and a mentor to the School's faculty and staff members. 

It was apparent right away that this was no ordinary man. Within two years, not only did the Class of 1971 dedicate their Rarebit to him, but he was also named Assistant Head and Director of Studies. Then, at the age of 37, in 1976 Hawley was appointed Head, the sixth person to lead the School since its founding in 1867.

In the mid-seventies all boarding schools, including Oldfields, were facing a changing landscape and challenging times. Former Head of School Taylor Smith said at the time of Hawley's retirement, "I suppose you can measure the worth of a man by his deeds…Many leaders would have been paralyzed by the pressures at hand, but Hawley never lost sight of his goals, and more importantly, never sacrificed the Oldfields' philosophy for the expedient solution." His warm personality, immediate trustworthiness, and strong leadership attracted exceptional teachers and administrators and motivated alumni and donors. The students soon followed. He continued to enrich and expand the student experience by adding day students to the community and establishing cherished traditions such as the Advisory Program and At-Home Night.

Hawley would be the first to share that his success was not his alone, but was built on partnerships with others—none more important than the one with his wife Wendy. Her creativity and love for the School were evident in everything she did. Together, she and Hawley built a strong sense of community. Wendy was a beloved art teacher, but her reach went well beyond the classroom as she openly welcomed members of the community into her home, hosting class dinners, faculty events, and other activities that fostered the "feeling of family" which was and is such an important part of the Oldfields Experience.

Teacher, archivist, and librarian Karen Miller recalls, "He was a visible presence as Head, splitting his time between Old House and Rodney, leading Morning Meetings with aplomb, attending athletic competitions and arts performances, teaching an Honors English class, and making sure he ate his meals with both students and faculty in equal measure…Because he cared for us and believed in our best, we cared for him and did our best out of respect for him."

During his 21-year tenure as Head, Oldfields increased its enrollment to reach capacity and became known as a school that was uniquely nurturing and sensitive to individual differences and needs. More than half a dozen buildings were added or renovated on campus, and the first multi-million dollar capital campaign was successfully completed in 1988.

While Hawley's tangible accomplishments are many, without question his greatest achievement was the impact he had on the girls who called Oldfields their home. Former Dean of Students Sue Louis wrote at his retirement, "His pragmatic and sensitive approach and emphasis on the individual, his insight into the uniqueness of every situation, made Oldfields a place where girls felt cared about."

Samantha Newton Dernbach '84 reflects on meeting Hawley during her school search, "Hawley had the gift of meeting each girl where she was on her path...no judgment, just care. He changed my life forever…Thank you, Hawley, for the potential you saw in me when I didn't see it in myself."

"Hawley embodies characteristics of integrity, honesty, commitment, compassion, respect for uniqueness and differences, and respect for self and others. All of these, and the fact that students and faculty alike strive to live up to his expectations, are what make Oldfields the special place it is," said Samantha Coker '90 when he retired.

"In our admission interview, we both got tears in our eyes. He saw how I needed a chance. His openness of eyes and heart changed the trajectory of my life. I am glad that at a reunion I was able to tell him that…"—a heartfelt testimonial from Elizabeth "Beth" Howser '84.

The same themes are repeated over and over as you talk to those who knew Hawley. They speak of his gentle, yet firm and sincere way of being, his openness to creative problem-solving, his intellect, his sense of humor, his determination, his kindness, his acceptance of different points of view, and his ability to remain young at heart. He built a community founded on family values tempered by fairness, firmness, and respect.

When he retired, Hawley may have "graduated" with the Class of 1997, but his love for Oldfields never waned. Both his granddaughters, Ali Towne '12 and Sarah Towne '17, followed his daughter, Laura Rogers Towne '82 as students, maintaining a wonderful legacy. 

But Hawley wasn't finished tending his gardens yet. Just a few years after settling into retirement, he again answered the call. Hawley's sense of purpose led him to Berkshire School in Sheffield, Massachusetts, his alma mater, to serve as Interim Head for six months following the unexpected death of Berkshire's Head of School. He provided Berkshire with stable, experienced leadership and nurtured a new crop of students until a permanent replacement could be found.  

In addition, he found that he still had an important role to play at Oldfields, as he served two separate terms on Oldfields' Board of Trustees, helping to guide the School and serving as a mentor for subsequent heads.

Former Head of School Taylor Smith shares, "The school motto, Fortezza, Umilitade, e Largo Core, fits Hawley perfectly, which is why he was so successful as its inspirational leader. He had the courage to guide the school through its tough times and the humility to do it with grace, forgetting his own ego. And who could question his largeness of heart, as he welcomed generations of Oldfields students into his Oldfields family?"

"I consider myself lucky to have known Hawley Rogers. He was one of the first people from Oldfields to congratulate me on being named Head-Elect in November 2017, and he continued to offer genuine support, and care each and every time we were able to connect.

"When I asked how he was doing, Hawley would routinely say, 'better than I deserve', and I believe that spoke volumes about his grace, humility, and overall view of the world. Hawley lived a remarkable life of purpose and influenced innumerable lives as an educator and school leader. Since his passing, I have heard alumni and former faculty and staff share stories about Hawley—and I often wonder if he had any idea of the extraordinary impact he had on the lives of so many who are connected to this special school.

"As the person who occupies the office in The Hawley and Wendy Rogers Wing of Old House, I will ensure Hawley's legacy continues to be felt and known by Oldfields students and faculty for many years to come." - Head of School David Perfield

Without doubt, Hawley positively influenced Oldfields in every aspect, embracing the importance of nurturing the whole child, guiding their growth in mind, body, and spirit as espoused by our founder, Anna Austen McCulloch. Oldfields became the embodiment of Hawley Rogers. He was wholly loved, and he loved wholly in return.

To the man of noble purpose who gave Oldfields such a strong foundation that even today new generations of students, faculty, and staff come to Glencoe to experience the Oldfields "magic" he bequeathed them, we say thank you, Hawley Rogers, from the bottom of our hearts. We are all the better for having known you.

WE REMEMBER

Taylor Smith, Former Head of School and Former Faculty

“Hawley embodied all that is good about American education. He was the primary reason I went to Oldfields in 1970, as a public school-educated student who was seeking a teaching position on a reservation, wondering why I had accepted an interview at a ‘posh’ girls’ boarding school. His strong commitment to the growth of the individual child is what drew me to Oldfields the first time, and his commitment to leading the school I had grown to love made going back in 1976 an easy choice. And again in 2008, only Hawley’s plea to encourage me to heed the Board’s call to return a third time could have drawn me from what I considered my ideal position in Florida. ”

Maribeth Littlefield P'07, History Teacher  

“A little over 40 years ago, I interviewed at Oldfields School. I knew nothing about boarding schools or Maryland. Seeing all the horses and cows scattered among the fields, I wanted to cry. I was determined to be a city girl and this just wouldn’t do. My last interview finally came. I would get through it politely and run home to find my dream job somewhere else. That interview was with Hawley Rogers, and something truly extraordinary happened when I walked into that office. I suddenly felt comfortable and confident, and it was like two people who had known each other forever were just sitting around talking. Hawley had many gifts but perhaps one that I, and so many others, received from him was that he saw things in us—talents, possibilities, potential—that we did not yet see in ourselves. How absolutely blessed we all are that he touched our lives. ”

Whitney Boyd '93

“Hawley Rogers, always a light shining on us. He was a rare gem and a quiet force that will live on for generations to come.”

Meredith Goldstein Marx '97 P'25, '25

“Loved, respected, hero, mentor, second dad, caring, kind, warrior, mensch, missed… Just a few words that come to mind when thinking of Hawley. When you chat with people about him, no one ever has a bad word to say. He was such an important part of Oldfields. A true leader and friend, Hawley always wanted the best for ‘his girls.’ He was so excited to hear that my daughters, Casey ’25 and Parker ’25, chose Oldfields and that they would be following in my footsteps. I told him that I was very happy that the School has David Perfield, because I see a lot of Hawley in David, and I knew they’d be in great hands! Hawley’s impact is beyond measure. He was the best! ”

Ansley Smithwick, Former Interim Head of School and Former Faculty

“Not only was Hawley an inspiration and example for Oldfields students, but he also was a mentor to me and many other young faculty members who came to Oldfields right out of college. Always modeling exactly what was expected, Hawley provided just the right amount of guidance and encouragement to inspire a willingness to work hard and confidence in his faculty. As long as they had the students’ best interest at heart, Hawley allowed his teachers to have autonomy and to make their own decisions about how best to teach their students. Teachers always felt Hawley’s trust which motivated them to take risks and to grow as professionals. ”

Barbara Latrobe P'97, '99, Assistant to the Head of School

“When talking about the ‘magic’ of Oldfields, I can’t help but remember how ‘magical’ Hawley was when interviewing a prospective student candidate. Fear and trepidation were abundantly present when the student would arrive at Hawley’s office and eye contact was minimal during the introduction, but once the interview would begin, no longer than two minutes in, the magic started to unfurl, and I could hear easy conversation and laughter from within his office! Hawley’s innate ability to bring calm and comfort to students while conversing allowed them to be in their ‘comfort zone’ and complete the interview feeling listened to and excited! It was as though a type of metamorphosis of the candidate took place during the interview, and once completed, there was often excitement for the possibility of attending Oldfields! On one occasion I recall the candidate looking back at me and saying, ‘He’s a pretty cool guy!’ If she only knew!! Oldfields was beyond fortunate to have this gentle man watching over her for so many years. We miss him beyond words.”

Howard Freedlander P'91 GP'22

“Hawley Rogers was as close to a saint as I’ve ever met. Not only was he head of a truly wonderful girls’ boarding school, he also served as my daughter Kate ’91’s advisor. My wife Liz and I benefited not only from his academic leadership but also his caring attentiveness to Kate as her advisor. Whenever Liz or I had a concern or question, he responded immediately. He epitomized an independent school educator who offered competence and compassion.”

Betsy Isaacs P'05, '08, Math Teacher

“I first met Hawley when I began working at the Oldfields barn in 1979, and that position evolved into a teaching position the following year. Throughout my 43 years at Oldfields, I realize that Hawley has been greatly responsible for the longevity of my connection to this School. He became what we now call, ‘my one trusted adult,’ although I didn’t actually realize this at the time. When I needed advice about a student or help with a lesson plan in my American Literature class, Hawley would find me in his office. When he reminded the faculty not to give homework during breaks, I agreed. He believed that holidays were for celebrating family and not writing papers or completing projects. To this day, I have followed this creed.

I remember how Hawley never failed to learn the name of every student at school within the first week of the year and frequently managed to get to three different sports games in an afternoon. He took note of special plays, goals, or matches and congratulated the girls individually during the following day, winning their everlasting gratitude. When my math department chair told me he was tired of the job and handed me the position, I panicked and fled to Hawley’s classroom for advice. He had more faith in me than I did and responded calmly that I would grow into it! Hawley was a friend and a mentor, and I will continue to treasure the pearls of wisdom he offered throughout the years. I feel blessed to have known him and believe strongly that Hawley was the embodiment of Courage, Humility, and Largeness of Heart.”