More rumination than poetry….the great experiment

We are coming up on the 40th anniversary of the graduation of the first group of Anne C. Stouffer Foundation scholars.  To mark that achievement, a bunch of us are holding monthly conference calls to plan a February 2016 reunion in Atlanta. Perhaps we’ll include some of the prominent luminaries, educators, politicians, etc., who were involved in the original experiment.

Here is my oral history submission from the archives:

“It was an interesting, and maybe even a noble experiment.  

Prelude.  Lincoln Jr. High had never seen so many white people!  John and Rosemary Ehle and a couple of other people working tape machines and taking notes took over the library (or was it the guidance counselor’s offices?  One was across the hall from the other).  I recall that once we were tested and selected, we had to submit a preference for schools.  I thought Asheville, because it was closer, but my mother did some checking and discovered a whole bunch of Greensboro folks were already in the Woodberry family.  My father was dead set against the whole enterprise, I remember, and he had his reasons, but my mother was all for it and all in for Woodberry Forest School.

We took a Greyhound bus up for the interview.  It was winter and it was cold.  Snow met us in the parking lot when we arrived by taxi from the bus stop in Orange, VA. But on the return trip we met some relatives in Richmond, where we spent the weekend before returning to Greensboro and Lincoln Jr. High.  I finished out the semester, but learned before Spring that I would be Woodberry bound.

Ron Long, Terry Jones, and Art Gaines led the charge in 1969.  They were the first generation, the pioneers.  I think they had some interesting experiences, but I’ll leave that story to them to tell.   In the second year, 1970, Ron Lipscomb, Kevin Miller, Wayne Booker and I arrived as boarding students, and Gary Mance and Wayne Williams came in as day students, tripling our numbers and making a significant addition to the number of variables in the social experiment. In 1971, Clifford Johnson and Robert Long, Ron’s younger brother, joined us, both as boarding students. 

Of course, it didn’t take long for us to discover one another. Kevin and I both came from Greensboro and from Lincoln Jr. High.  (Five Lincoln students went to Virginia prep schools that year under the Anne C. Stouffer Foundation.  Veda Howell went to Foxcroft, another girl went to Chatham Hall whose name I can’t remember.).  I don’t remember if we came together officially or if we just gravitated to a center.  Gaines, Long and Jones were the big brothers we went to for advice.  Ron Lipscomb and I had classes together.  And we all played football that first fall: Ron, Art, Wayne and Gary on JV, Terry, Ronald, and I on Junior Orange, Kevin and Wayne Williams on Junior Black.  In my second year I gravitated to cross country after showing some promise as a middle distance runner the previous spring.    Several of us continued together in winter track, though Ronald Lipscomb early on distinguished himself in JV basketball in the winter, as did Ron Long in varsity baseball in the spring. 

We got into the habit of sitting together in the dining hall for Saturday and Sunday breakfasts, which were buffet and informal (no coat and tie, and no assigned seating).  It is amusing looking back on it, and maybe even a bit contrived, but at the time it seemed the natural thing to do. V

My favorite teachers. Dave Bloor tripled as my earth science teacher, track and cross country coach and assigned academic adviser. He was definitely one of my favorites.  I learned so much from Mr. Bloor, in the classroom and on the track. I will never forget him. Bob Vasquez, my Spanish teacher, started me off on a language learning track (he was also my basketball coach, though his best efforts at converting me to basketball fell short). Wilfred Grenfell ranks right at the top; I lived for his history lectures, and he, more than any other, bears the blame for my insatiable curiosity about Middle East issues and about foreign affairs in general. Robin Breeden, our dorm guy, maybe we called him dorm master, would invite us into his apartment for tea and biscuits and tell us about the time he swam the English Channel. How I adored those “civilizing” chats. And the Bond couple, Tom and Vicki, with whom I studied both Spanish and French, fueled my thirst for foreign language skills that continues until today, with Portuguese and Arabic added along the way. 

I have warm memories of running cross country.  Those long autumnal runs, named Arrowpoint and Chicken Ridge, and the long 13 mile trek to Achsah and back, introduced me to and acquainted me with the beauty of Orange County.  Those runs were the ambrosia that nourished my soul.  The habit I formed, of finding wonders and magic in routine and mundane chores, like long distance runs, would later prove to be the source of  personal and professional strength.  But I digress.  We had a great cross country team, eventually winning the Virginia Prep League championship.  The camaraderie of that team filled a social and a personal void for me. 

In retrospect, my most enduring thoughts about the Woodberry experience center around its well known and highly regarded honor system. I will make an addendum to discuss the honor system, how I internalized it, and how it informed and influenced me in later life.

Still, though, for reasons perhaps imagined and perhaps real, thoughts lingered and grew within me that I really didn’t “belong.”  Those thoughts reached a height in the spring of my second year, a growing and gnawing loneliness that I couldn’t explain or even understand.  At the end of my second year, I told myself I would not return.  The loneliness and alienation I felt at Woodberry, I would later come to learn, had a lot less to do with Woodberry and a lot more to do with me and my emergence from adolescence and puberty.  It would stay with me through college, where, like a ship without a rudder, without an anchor, and without a means of propulsion, I bounced around for three long, uncertain years, changing my major almost every semester, back and forth from electrical engineering to biology to economics. It was actually an interesting combination. Finally, midway through 1978, the year I should have graduated from college, I left school at mid term,  degree-less, and enlisted in the Navy’s Nuclear Power program and the submarine force. It was there that I finally hit my stride, serving four years in engineering billets on the USS Hammerhead (SSN-63) and the USS Michigan (SSBN-727(B)).

In the intervening years, I lost track of everybody.  I bumped into Ron Lipscomb on Duke’s campus, maybe in 1976. A girl I dated knew Wayne Williams, also at Duke. Kevin Miller (God rest his soul) and I had mutual friends in Greensboro. In 1985, I went back and finished college and upgraded my Navy status from enlisted to commissioned.  My tenure as a commissioned officer was of limited duration; I finished my four-year obligation and transferred to State and the Foreign Service in 1992. 

I stumbled on Ron Long’s name in the late 90’s and got back in touch.  Ron put me in touch with Art Gaines, who by that time was doing humanitarian relief work in East Africa.  Following assignments in Guinea-Bissau, London, Angola and Ghana, I landed a Washington job also covering East Africa.  I thought maybe our paths would cross on many trips I made to Khartoum, but it wasn’t to be.”

postscript. 02/11/2019 Some Facebook update notes from my January 2019 visit.

Author: Raymond Maxwell Librarian, archivist, retired foreign service officer and Navy veteran.

2 thoughts on “More rumination than poetry….the great experiment”

  1. ray, rob long sent this to me and i really enjoyed reading it. I remember you well and have thought of you often over the years. I`m currently chairman of the woodberry board of trustees and especially appreciated your reflections on your experiences there. I remember you being harassed by some rednecks on C dorm our 3rd form year, but you were tough and didn`t hesitate to stand up to them. i brought rob long onto the board a couple of yrs ago and he has been a terrific trustee. I`m so glad he sent this to me after I asked about you. i have missed you and hope you`re doing well. I`m so impressed with the things rob has told me that you have done. warmest regards, sion boney


    1. Hey Si, thanks for your note. The time spent at Woodberry was special for all of us, for our own particular reasons and requirements. We were children, and it shaped us into the men we would eventually become.

      I remember you as one of the Greensboro guys. I have been trying to get back to Greensboro for years but it hasn’t happened, except for weekend trips. I am almost resigned to the notion that we are Washingtonians now.

      We had a fairly good run. I am almost ashamed now of the places I dragged my wife to, worldwide, but we survived it all, moved up the bureaucracy, and took advantage of an early retirement to pursue my true love, books and librarianship.

      Happy you enjoyed reading the blog post. Great hearing from you.



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