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UNDERNEWS

Undernews is the online report of the Progressive Review, edited by Sam Smith, who covered Washington during all or part of ten of America's presidencies and who has edited alternative journals since 1964. The Review, which has been on the web since 1995, is now published from Freeport, Maine. We get over 5 million article visits a year. See prorev.com for full contents of our site

January 18, 2010

PASSINGS: DAVID MALLERY

Last May the Review received an email from a reader praising the work the editor and his wife had done in Washington as they prepared to move to Maine. He wrote: "It is so interesting and moving to hear the two of you reflecting on those years, being young and adventurous there at a time when things were so intensely alive and full of promise. So clearly you have nourished that scene for 40 years as well as having been nourished by it."

Editors get nice letters like that and they get nasty ones, but what was exceptional of about this one was that it was yet another from an 86-year old man who had taught me English at Germantown Friends School in the 1950s and was still egging me on over a half century later. Sadly, however, I won't be getting any more such letters, however, because David Mallery passed on January 16.-  Sam


Dick Wade, Head, Germantown Friends School - The GFS students in his English classes (1946-59) and the thousands of educators he taught for over 50 years have lost a dear friend and mentor. He will be remembered for his effervescence, his eternal optimism and his ability to be truly present for each person he encountered. . . David taught and directed at Germantown Friends until 1959, when he left on a project traveling around the country to talk to children about the influence of their school experience on their personal values. This exploration led to a career in education from the perspective of observer, investigator, and advisor. Through presentations and workshops he became a leader in independent schools.


Sam Smith, Multitudes - Ed Gordon, David Mallery, and Bob Boynton were the school's English teachers. Mr. Gordon was the toughest of the lot, a smallish, well-dressed man as defensive of our right to say what we wanted as he was insistent that we say it precisely and clearly. . . We would try to trap him, but it was not easy. One day, one of the students demanded of Mr. Gordon why -- given his propensity for free expression -- he always wore gray flannel suits. Mr. Gordon said quietly, "It makes it easier to say what I think."

We knew all about the meaning of gray flannel suits, thanks to Mr. Mallery, who had introduced us to the man in one, and other subversive literature of the 50s such as The Organization Man and Generation of Vipers. Mr. Mallery accomplished with enthusiasm what Mr. Gordon achieved with discipline. I took naturally to the skepticism of the social critics, for I had found much of my world not to my liking but had not realized that one could make a living saying so. And I devoured Ernest Hemingway because his stories were tough and melancholic and he didn't gush adjectives, metaphors and similes like so many of the writers we were meant to admire. In The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber, he said that some things lose their meaning when they get all mouthed up. I appreciated the way he didn't use words as much as the way he did.

Several of the bright, proto-literary girls in my class -- who tolerated my less intellectual ways as though I were a colorful but unreliable writer to be both valued and pitied -- became enthralled with T.S. Eliot and Yeats and spoke about them in ways I did not comprehend. Girls, it was understood, would do anything for the handsome Mallery, leaving even proto-literary boys to bring up the rear.

Still, it was a pleasant rear, for Mr. Mallery usually found something good to say, gave us courage to challenge the world and provided daily evidence that growing up did not have to mean the end of joy. And when that didn't work, he once walked atop a row of desks to make his point.

He even inspired me to write a play, a maudlin love story involving a foreign correspondent. In his normal red ink, Mr. Mallery wrote:

Intensely interesting, Sam -- there is talk here that pierces the mind... You have values and feelings made eloquently articulate.

It being only eleventh grade, I believed him. It was thankfully the last play I ever wrote, but it was one of the moments that confirmed that I wanted to be a writer. (Years later, when this essay appeared in a school publication, Mallery wrote me, "But I was right.")

In one essay for Mr. Mallery I even took on the mythic figure of William Whyte who had proposed in Fortune placing an employee's IQ and personality test records, religion, political affiliation, hobbies, type of car and salary all on a single card for use as needed.

It was probably a satire, but I took it seriously and inveighed against the device calling it "the embryo of a police state and a place for a would-be dictator to hang his hat and go to work. . . Once the individual has lost the security of privacy, we are no longer safe from the immediate overthrow of our principles by the ever-waiting demagogue.". . .

David Mallery called my critique of Whyte a "a good, vigorous and heartening response." And when I listened to a recording of Arthur Honnegers King David for the first time and asked Mallery, who was about to help stage a performance of the work, where the line between noise and music was, he said simply, "That's for you to decide."

On the other hand, my attack on Lillian Smith's The Journey brought Mr. Mallery out of his ebulliency:

Lillian Smith is not a friend of mine, or of my mothers. So it is with no bias that I say your attack on her is tiresome, and inappropriate for this particular job... Since you do haggle over her in the way your do, read her again, after a good dinner. Yours, feeling nailsy, though admiring of Sam.



THE EDITOR IN DAVID MALLERY'S CLASSROOM


10 Comments:

Blogger Christian Long said...

It is with a heavy heart (which I can't quite describe with any degree of confidence) that I try to make sense of David's loss.

He had become a dear friend of mine these last 3 years after we met at a conference in Colorado (where we both were speakers and one of his past seminar participants -- my wife -- introduced us).

Beyond his intellectual eye for detail and quality, his unapologetic heart and love for other's stories won me over that first day. It was his never-ending interest in the lives of those who gravitated towards him that made one understand how his influence could be so boundless and graceful.

We had a standing breakfast date at the Ritz every time I came to Philadelphia. We were supposed to have another early morning tete-a-tete two weeks from today. I simply ache that he won't be there to embrace once again, to tell him about my wife and children, to pick his brain about what it means to educate, and to simply 'break bread' with one of the good souls that still walk this good earth of ours.

Thank you for sharing your story, especially the line where he is able to criticize your pen/attack while still reminding you that he's a fan of yours the entire time.

And thank you for giving others of us a chance to pause, even if we cannot fully (yet) understand his passing.

January 18, 2010 10:21 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Are you in fact, the person known as "Nails?" David you speak so fondly of him(you, if this is you).

I miss him so - and I've only known him for a couple years - mostly via phone conversations. What a bright spot, a light, source of deep love he brought to my world.

Thank you for sharing.

January 19, 2010 12:34 PM  
Blogger Cynthia Schmidt said...

I became acqainted with David when my husband attended one of his seminars. We were newly married and wanted to combine the trip with our honeymoon. Not only did Mr. Mallery allow me to come to the retreat center but include me in everything, from meals to workshops. I'll cherish that memory forever. What a very very special man. And, if he ever met a person, he never forgot them - ever. He was a jewel.

January 19, 2010 1:10 PM  
Blogger Bill Williams' Blog said...

Sam:

I happen to be a Bowdoin alumnus. Happy to see you've found a wonderful place to relocate. That said,
I was terribly saddened to learn about David Mallery's passing. For me, David was ever available, ever gracious, ever wise. A beacon at times of stress in my career, a celebrant at times of success. The ripples from his good work will spread infinitely. A sorrow to lose and a joy to remember. Thank you for celebrating him on your Blog. I hope to do so on mine as well.

January 20, 2010 7:40 PM  
Anonymous Stephen Aiello said...

Thank you for starting this about David. I met David in my first year of teaching almost thirty years ago now, which happened to be the same year my father passed away. David and I had such sympatico - theater, English, films - we hit it off immediately and it became a friendship that will go one forever. Although David never acknowledged it, I think we both knew that he became a father of sorts to me, especially after one long tearful hug at the end of the Westtown Seminar I spent with him. I loved David. His positive spirit was at the center of my teaching and he profoundly changed my life. I will miss him very dearly, and although I know he would eschew a statement such as this, to me the world is a little darker without him.

January 21, 2010 11:55 AM  
Blogger Liz said...

Thank you, Sam, for starting this wonderful tribute page. It was the first thing I found when I started a Google search to find out more details about David's passing. I am one of the lucky ones who remained in Philadelphia. As a result, I have been able to keep in closer touch with David than many others were who loved him just as much. My husband, Nick, and I met David fairly regularly for lunch, and he and Judith invited several of the "girls" from the Class of 1956 for tea on his terrace a couple of years ago. Of course, at the end of the visit, we all sang "Jerusalem" while David accompanied us. He and I had a special way of communicating when we knew it was time to schedule another lunch. David started it several years ago. He would call, if my Voice Mail answered the telephone, David would simply play a wonderful tune on the piano, such as "Our Love is Here to Stay," or "They Can't Take That Away From Me," or "Thanks for the Memories," etc., with no verbal communication whatsoever. As soon as I retrieved the message, I would call back, and if I got his Voice Mail, I would play another tune for him (usually Gershwin or Cole Porter). If one of us actually answered the phone, the piano piece would come first, followed by conversation. Since the sudden death of my brother Bruce (on Spruce Head Island, by the way) in June of 2008, I have been completely overwhelmed, and my contacts with David have been fewer. However, I decided to correct that situation several weeks ago, and called his number. When I reached his Voice Mail, I played "Our Love is Here to Stay," and a day later I received a piano response on my VM, overjoyed that he was alive and well, and probably ready to schedule our next lunch. I fully intended to call the next day to thank him for his Christmas card, but life got hectic and I never did. Now I will never be able to do so. Just as Bruce Montgomery did, David leaves a HUGE hole in the hearts of thousands of people whose lives he impacted in the profoundest of ways. I will be grateful to him forever for the joy he spread and for his love and friendship, which I believe have the ability to transcend death. Thank you for providing this forum for our expressions of love.
Liz Montgomery Thomas, GFS Class of 1956

January 21, 2010 1:22 PM  
Blogger DougKeith said...

Although it's been a number of years since I've seen David, this news takes the wind out of my sails. Back in the early 1980s, when I was teaching at a small rural Quaker school in Ohio, I was captured by David after attending a Friends Council on Education workshop run by someone who obviously was already in David's orbit. A few weeks after returning to Ohio, I received the first of many letters from David inviting me to Westtown for his Teachers' Seminar. That was a delightful few days, filled with metaphorical (and more than a few literal) desserts with David as the ringmaster overseeing and always encouraging with grace and wit.

That was just the beginning of a beautiful friendship (wink!) in which I was fully aware that I was just one of a multitude that David somehow seemed to be constantly sustaining and affirming. It still exhausts me just to imagine how he pulled it all off, picking up with a conversation from a few months (or years) earlier as if it had been a few minutes before, and hearing from others that he was doing the same thing with them. I recall a meeting of the Program Committee of the Friends Council on Education which he managed for years. It met upstairs at the 4th and Arch St. Meetinghouse and in this scene in my memory someone, a young woman I think, was in the middle of saying something. Suddenly there was the commotion outside the room made by a group of young children loudly progressing down the hall. My attention along with others was drawn through the open door. After a few moments I turned back and noticed David sitting at the long table with his chin down resting on his hands, still completely engrossed in what the member of our committee was still saying. It struck me at that moment and has obviously stayed with me since as being one of his remarkable characteristics: the ability to pay total attention to a person or an event and then file that away for later use. I'm convinced that I am a much richer person for having had him paying attention to me.

Farewell good friend!

January 22, 2010 9:48 AM  
Anonymous John GFS1959 said...

From the Emperors Club

A person's character is his fate, for most of us the stories an be written long before we die. There are exceptions but I am not one of them.
The end depends on the beginning.

I am Shutruck Nahunte, King of Anshaud and Susa, soverign of the land of Elam. By the command of Inshushinar I desroyed Sippar, took the Stele of Nira-Sin and brought back to Elan where I elected it as an offering to my god.

Shutrack Nahunte 1158 b.c.

Great ambition and conquest without contribution is without significance. What will your contribution be?

A great teacher has little external history to record.His life goes over into other lives. These men are pillars in the intimate structure of our schools, they are more essential than the stones or beams and will continue to be a kindling force and a revealing power in our lives. However much we stumble it's a teacher's burden to always hope that with learning a persons character might be changed, and so the Destiny of Man.

Their story is our story.

January 23, 2010 3:53 PM  
Anonymous Rachel T said...

I had the wonderful opportunity to get to know David when I attended the Westtown Seminar in my early years at that school. David's wisdom, his intuition and his insight were all invaluable to me. I feel honored to have known him and been inspired by him.

January 24, 2010 9:54 PM  
Anonymous Connie Worthington said...

I went to David's Westtown Seminar - just 40 years ago - where he'd gathered Willi Unsoeld to teach us the best Outward Bound had to offer, Marcus Foster to share the obstacles he'd overcome in the Sacramento schools, and many others who were extraordinary teachers (Head Start, including Bill Cosby's aunt, to World College, one of the triumvirate heads), counselors (psychiatrists, psychologists, religious leaders), advocates of children.

There has never been an experience like Westtown in a lifetime of workshops and seminars. Its partipants and the lessons I took from each still inspire me. David was the magic ... from his welcome, his love of elegance and schmaltz, his cinematic lessons... and ever since ... recruiting me to lead a NAIS workshop (such a compliment), cheering me on and following my "adventures" as I moved to the UK and came back to RI, as I worked in nonprofits from 1984-2005(still volunteering) and traveled all the continents - I have a drawer where I keep those special letters that make me feel accomplished and kind and happy. I've just opened it, knowing that there were many of David's cheerful, spirited notes - to discover that he is the writer of the majority of letters there.

I'm envious of those who were in his English classes and who saw him regularly. (I regretted missing the anniversary party at Westtown, thought I'd make it, but was far away that day.) At most we had some phone calls and greeting cards, but how fortunate I was to know and love/be loved. I will miss the letters not to be written, their affection and encouragement and praise. Death will not diminish the impact David continues to have on my life, but oh, how I shall miss him!

(my first blog - he's teaching me again)

January 25, 2010 3:52 PM  

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