Alumni

Read Tim Golding's Letter & Steve Hyde's Eulogy from John Pierson's Service

Letter from Tim Golding — Headmaster 1986-2005

     John Pierson's life can be summarized in one word:  SELFLESS.  He was devoted to his family, to his friends, and to Tower Hill School.
     From the moment I met him during the Headmaster search in 1985, it was immediately obvious that this “school man” cared more about the lives of each and every student he encountered than himself. A teacher who demanded precision but who knew how to relate personally,John was most at home in the company of his students.  As a coach, he never sought the limelight, only the opportunity to work on skill development, to help keep the team's morale high,and to never miss an obligation at practices or games.
     John Pierson personified Tower Hill School. He was and will always represent what was noble and right about our cherished Green and White community.
     No job was too menial for John, and no one ever saw him unwilling to jump in at any time to better the cause.  His work beyond Tower Hill with Blue and Gold was passionate and heartfelt.  Loyalty and going beyond what is expected are often forgotten in today's world of "me first…," but not for John Pierson.  He was simply one of the finest human beings I have ever known.  He meant so much to the Golding family, and we grieve at his untimely passing.  May JohnPierson's life serve as an example for others to emulate.
     Johnny, God Bless You.  We love you.

Eulogy Delivered by Steve Hyde:

     The first time I met John Pierson was my first day at Tower Hill in January 1947, as a late addition to the kindergarten class. John took me under his wing, even going so far as letting me share his blanket during rest period. To alter a concluding line from the film, "Casablanca", I would call that January day "the beginning of a" long lasting friendship, and one I will always treasure.    
     If one looks at the picture of the first grade in the 1948 Tower Hill yearbook, you will detect, in the front row—far left—a confident looking 6 ½ year old with the sleeves of his sweater rolled up to his elbows, a hint of a grin and dark hair that is actually combed. Most of the other males in the class had no idea what a comb was, or, at least, never used one. By third grade, some of us would be excused once or twice to the Lower School boys’ lavatory to do our business, followed by, almost collectively, staring at the mirror and combing our hair after holding our combs under the water spigots. The reason for the comb in the water was we hoped we could steal some of Johnny's thunder; he was—hands down—the matinee idol when we were in grades one, two, three, and beyond. However, even at that age, Johnny, as he was called, was more than just the darling of the in-crowd. The son of a highly revered Wilmington surgeon and former U. of D. athlete, John had a passion for competition and an athletic prowess that were readily apparent, and he was a solid student to boot.
     Starting in second grade in our co-ed gym class, John often made a mockery of "Capture the Flag,” with his daring dashes towards the goal, where he would free any prisoners, and, with elusive moves, grab the flag and start his fearless run to the midline with many in hot pursuit. More often than not, with that same hint of a grin, he would bring home the bacon, as they say—sort of like Errol Flynn in "The Adventures of Robin Hood,” and yet, I never remember John gloating in all our years; he became our subdued hero, although, when asked a question, he would always give a straight, firm answer—even if it was "I don't know."
     As we struggled towards the upper school, some of "THE boys" would be driven, on occasion, by a parent to a movie in downtown Wilmington—on a weekend, of course—to be followed by a visit to a drugstore soda fountain where the orders were often….Coke….Cherry Coke….Pepsi….and John's usual….water. Let me hasten to add, I never saw John go through a fumbling-for-his-wallet routine, but when it came to himself, he was rarely self-indulgent, and yet, later on, he would reward varsity football players for great plays on defense or special teams with slurpees on Mondays and do so with great enthusiasm, and if his seventh graders gave time and energy on a Saturday for their commitment to the Adopt-the-Highway campaign, which he initiated in the name of Tower Hill seventh graders, a fast food treat for all involved was on John.
     By the time John was a senior, he had made a name for himself with his classmates and teachers for his willingness to do the "tedious and bothersome chores" (as stated on his yearbook page), such as keeping accurate track of our meager class treasury for three years, or coordinating the worker bees and building the set for our junior prom, which was initially constructed in his family's garage. I was amazed at his capacity for work as well as those who worked with him, and I never knew him to pass the buck.
     By this time, John had also become an accomplished drummer and played in a student combo his sophomore and junior years with three other students and a couple of local doctors who were Tower Hill parents. Playing mostly at school assemblies, the Mystics, as they were called, would play traditional jazz pieces and swing era favorites, which gave plenty of opportunities for improvisational solos—except for John who stated that he was happy maintaining his musical responsibility, i.e. to keep the beat. In every sense, he was the ultimate team player—dependable, responsible, well organized, willing to pull his weight and then some.
     After graduation, and before going off to Hamilton College, John had been selected to play in the Fourth Annual Blue-Gold All-Star football game in late August 1959. What John and the rest of us who played took from that game was the knowledge that DFRC existed, as, in those early days, the players of both teams met only one afternoon during the two weeks of practice, on Frazier Field, where it had been cordoned off to the public so that we could collectively spend about twenty-five minutes interacting with a sizeable group of the special children. The game itself challenged us all, as it was played that year in ninety-eight-degree heat at the University of Delaware stadium. John was a key factor in the narrow Blue victory, blocking a punt and running around like it was an Indian summer afternoon. News-Journal sportswriter, Al Cartwright, lauded John's play in his column, and, perhaps for the first time, he received public recognition—which he rightfully earned. I also found out that John handled this kind of success the same way he handled anonymity—with poise and grace. The return of the subdued hero. As many of us today know, what John took from his first Blue-Gold DFRC experience, he gave back tenfold. Thanks mainly to his efforts and perseverance through the past years, Blue-Gold and DFRC have become an integral part of a Tower Hill education.
     While I never visited John at Hamilton College, I would see him at Christmas and during summers. I noticed during one summer, that John was trying to put on weight for football and by August, he looked like a squirrel getting ready for winter. Later he realized his plan was not the answer, and he returned to his undersized, svelte, matinee idol self. I did get to see John play a football game at Wesleyan, and he was the same old tenacious, undersized interior lineman who never left the field, and was a prodigious punter. Much later, I learned that John was elected a football captain his senior year, and was president of his fraternity—things that John would never have brought up in conversation. Only recently have former Hamiltonians told me that John took a very demanding French major, and that he was highly respected on campus, as he worked hard, both academically and in football, and he handled his role as fraternity president with his usual aplomb. And I never knew he received the Gelas Memorial Prize before graduation in 1963 for "outstanding development, sportsmanship, leadership, strength of character and athletic ability” until two days ago when reading his obituary, but I am not surprised, as the qualifications fit John, and he would never have brought it up as a topic of conversation. There is a lot I learned about John over the last few days, and I thought I knew most if not nearly all going in. I only wish I had time to share it with you.
     John's decision to enter the teaching profession also fit the man. Later in our careers we would talk about what influenced us in giving it a fling straight out of college, and it was obvious that the enthusiasm of the Tower Hill faculty and coaches, i.e. Ernie Savage and Ed Hughes to name a couple, were key factors. We only hoped that we would have as much enjoyment as they seemed to have. We both agreed it didn't take much persuasion to, at least, give it a shot.
     John started at Landon School in Bethesda, Md., where he stayed for three years before moving on to St. Louis Country Day School where I was employed. There was an opening in middle school English and for a line coach in varsity football, and since John had not been asked to coach at Landon, he came out for a weekend visit and decided to make the change. My main concern was not John's qualifications or character—which I never doubted—but that geographically, he would be leaving his beloved Delaware. Even Landon was within spitting distance of his "comfort zone,” but Missouri? John's work ethic, gregarious nature, and the chance to get back in harness with football seemed to suit him to a tee. He rented an apartment near us, and I never realized he was an interior decorator, as he would often move his furniture around to suit his moods, yet it always looked neat and appealing.
     During his second year at CDS, John fulfilled the need for a drummer in a faculty musical. By that time, Malcolm Coates had called and, at the completion of the school year, John was on his way home. In the ensuing six years, marriage and children became the priorities for both of us.
     However, in 1974, I returned, and for fifteen years, John and I, along with other well known Tower Hill faculty, worked as varsity football coaches, but those fall encounters will have to remain in a large part of my memory bank today, due to time constraints. I will say that I would have been lost without John, as not only he was an exceptional line coach, but a detail man dealing with the mundane and bothersome details that went with the program. I once told him that if he had been Eisenhower's aide during WWII, it probably would have ended a month or two earlier. John would always set up the field, i.e. yard markers, chains, etc. for Saturday home games, and one day Harry Baetjer and I decided to set up early so that John could come in and relax. Bad idea. After completing the task, we waited for John's arrival, hoping that he would appreciate our efforts on his behalf. John showed up with the longest hang-dog look and said “Somebody else set up the field.” We both felt guilty and obviously looked guilty and John asked "Was it you two?" We grudgingly nodded and John's response was "I guess you don't need me anymore," and when I started to explain, he quickly interrupted, "And just so you know, you had three big screw ups but I have already taken care of it." Needless to say, it was a move Harry and I never made again. Also, at least at the beginning of our tenure, while I am thankful and appreciative of his strong sense of organization, the Sunday meetings after Saturday games often had John, who rarely minced words, stating, "This better be quick because I have to get home to cut the grass.” And—seriously—we all knew John truly loved to cut the grass. His knack for organization and detail work was also appreciated by some women I know. If John was a guest at their parties, he invariably helped clean up before departing—emptying ashtrays (in the old days), clearing tables, rinsing and washing dishes—you name it.
     I am sure I am one of many parents who appreciated John's skills in the classroom. The seventh grade was his domain, and I know his and my children, along with countless others, recognized his enthusiasm, diligence, and his emphasis on teaching students proper grammar, even with the help of an occasionally tossed piece of chalk.
     But there was so much more—varsity basketball coach, assistant girls varsity lacrosse coach, the Middle School Octave program, the Blue-Gold Committee in the upper school. He loved the two main Tower Hill traditions…sitting with his seventh grade and singing carols at Tree Trim…and he was always excited about Field Day, dressing for the occasion and announcing the events over the loud speaker. If someone was needed as a timer and scoreboard operator at a basketball game, or to keep the book—afternoon or night—John was there. And he took Bill Wood's idea of the Green and White club, and even Bill states, carried it beyond anything he could have imagined. Most of us know there was so much more. I like to think he gave us time to become better teachers. Head of the Middle School, John Newlin, appointed him assistant head. Ellis Wasson—a daily early arrival to work along with Hugh Atkins and John—saw him as the custodian or caretaker of Tower Hill, which sums it up perfectly.
     Now bear with me….
     A couple of years ago, when John was worried about how he couldn't drive, he accepted my offer to pick him up at his Hickory Hill Road home and drive him to school, and I wasn't the first or last to do so. As he walked with assistance to my car, he made it clear that he was frustrated with people having to give up time and go out of their way to help him. My response was that we all saw it as a chance to repay kindnesses rendered and time generously given to help all of us in so many ways. And I know there are many here that have been recipients of John's generosity and thoughtfulness. For one of the few times in our relationship, John was speechless.
     John, who tended to be modest about his various roles as a teacher and coach, was fervently persistent in his giving Tower Hill a broader identity, one that would reach out to the community at large and involve faculty, students and parents. His spirit and drive, even when wracked by pain and suffering, have made the image of the school a more positive one than ever before. By personally getting totally involved in DFRC and Blue-Gold, the Green and White club, FFAS and Adopt-A-Highway, to name a few, he has left a legacy that we all can continue and share in.
     On Friday evening, November 20, the current upper school Blue-Gold Committee gave its annual fashion show in the theater. Their long-time mentor, John Pierson, was in the audience, and when the show ended, the Blue-Gold members honored John for his work over the years. With a spotlight on him, the near capacity crowd gave him a standing ovation which John received with poise, grace—and joy. He stayed a few minutes longer and exchanged handshakes and affectionate words with many, some of whom he hadn’t seen in a while.
     He went out right. Goodbyes were shared, and he was finally open to receive the love so many held for him. John was a giver and would have preferred avoiding the limelight, or, at least, play it down. How lucky for us and fitting for him to be on the receiving end for once. How we wish he were here.
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