Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Choate Headmaster Seymour St. John, 1969

All photographs are from our family archives.

Here are some photos from our archives of Choate Headmaster Seymour St. John taken in 1969.  The New York Times outlined his professional life and context in their obituary.

I showed these pictures to a handful of old and close friends who knew him well.  I have sprinkled some of their more personal comments to me throughout.

The big question is always, "what is a good life?"  If the answer is "having a deep and profound positive impact on people," I would say that Seymour St. John led a good life.

"His birthday was the same as Dad's and they grew up together there on the Choate campus. His father had been headmaster before him.  Seymour married us in the Choate Chapel."

"As you know, he was my cousin and he was the most charming man.” 

"One of my biggest regrets in my life was turning down his offer to dance..."

"Seymour looked like a model...  I never ever saw him the least bit rumpled."

"Seymour had an ice skating party every winter and would ask me to skate with him. I can't tell you what that was like."


"I loved Seymour and his Springer Spaniel. Later he had a pet otter who followed him around.  The otter would periodically go missing as the instrument of many a Choate boys' pranks."

"Gram and Seymour's mother were great friends.  Gram called Seymour her 'naughty little boy'.  He would climb up into the bell tower and ring the bells attempting to play Johnny Get Your Gun and wake her sleeping babies.... Gram's house is now part of the campus."

"Your dad caught Seymour perfectly. He looked like that ALL of the time."

From left to right: Then Choate Headmaster Seymour St. John, his father, George St. John (founding Head of Choate), Poet Robert Frost, and Philanthropist Paul Mellon (who probably paid for the whole shebang). 


Craig Sevde said...

Your blog is a rich history of prep at its finest. I like the stories you share.

HHH said...

This is going out post haste to all my Choate-Rosemary Hall friends from the 60's!

Erika said...

I think you have a wonderful blog, Muffy. As an educator, I find this post very inspiring. It seemed that Headmaster St. John not only "lived the good life" but had a great passion for his vocation.

Greenfield said...

What a wonderful, contemplative photo essay . . . how I wish young people seeking role models would emulate true leaders such as he was, rather than "entertainers" of dubious character and worse style!

Thank you for the inspiration.

Bitsy said...

The photos and the words are a wonderful tribute the man. And I second Greenfield's wish.

Anonymous said...

Sometimes I wonder if Lisa Birnbach reads your blog. And I have to think -- she does.

Maybe I've missed, but your father seems to have a wonderfully interesting life. It would be interesting to see you write about him.

Christy said...

I didn't know this man, but the people who knew him well certainly make me wish I did.

While I understand that "good fences make good neighbors", and that can apply to blogs as well, I "second" the wish to hear more of your father, if you don't find the request too intrusive.

Anonymous said...

We knew Seymour from Hobe Sound, Florida. He was a gem in every possible way, and was very easy to love!!!
God Bless Him!!


Anonymous said...

Hi All

The black and white shots are great in their way, but it'd be nice to know Seymour's clothes' colours. The trousers look grey flannel and the blazer is sure to be navy, with brass buttons. The tie, I guess, is navy and red. All up, he looks positively august, as befits his station. To boot, he strikes a blow for the bald-man-as-style-icon.

Speaking of positive influence: Muffy, you do grace us with the generous sharing of your days and your gentle guidance.

Kionon said...

If you teach and do not believe you are making a contribution both to individuals students and to society at large... It's time for you to move into another line of work.

It surprises me not at all that Headmaster St. John would have led a good life. I only hope my own students are able to look back and believe I had a deep and profound impact on their lives the way my favorite teachers had on mine.

Through the wonders of facebook, I have received messages from some of my students... Now in college. And being only 28, myself... I wonder where the time went.

Buzzy O said...

Old Deerfield saying: "If you can't get a date, get a Choatie."

Paul Connors said...

Once again, B & W photos, with their rich tonality make these photos the classic rendition of prep history that they are. I guess by now, you've concluded that I love B & W. While I shoot color digitally, I still shoot B & W film because I think it is so much richer than B & W done digitally.

Your father's photos, his keen eye for subject matter and composition make these all the more vivid and emotional and in so many ways they tell stories that mere words cannot.

I wish I could have talked photography with him.

Anonymous said...

Fantastic photos; why not publish a collection?

Susan R said...

Love the photos and reading about your cousin. That photo with him in the duffle coat is a classic. I love the photo, but love the coat even more.
I've heard you talk a lot about your father and I'm sure he was a fascinating man, but I'd like to hear more about your mother. Not sure if I've ever seen a photo of her on your blog.

Elizabeth Rose Stanton said...

First glace-- reminds me a little of Louis S. Auchincloss (he was a Groton boy). Wonderful photos!

Oxford Cloth Button Down said...


Great pics.He sure looks great in that toggle coat.

Anonymous said...

i would love to see a post on returning-to-school in september - for my 8-year-old son! i'm not convinced that i should buy him a pile of rl polos,since clearly it's a growing-out-of-things age. and yet, so tempting! late summer / fall with a child. what fun! how tempting to create his look for him...

Mags said...

Amazing peek into time! These photos show me the lost art of personal communication, confirming my choice to leave FB behind and live life.

Anonymous said...

I have no idea why, but I know some people from away who want to think of "real" Preppy people as recluses, afraid of the public eye, skulking in the shadows, apparently only talking to other people from their secret societies, and avoiding any public persona. Obviously anyone who can get a lot of attention learns to set limits. But thank you for your more accurate sketches of people who throw themselves into their work and community, and work hard to make a difference, including here as headmaster, or in earlier posts as politicians, or authors.

Blossom and Poppy said...

Hi Muffie, I attended my 50th reunion last year at Choate Rosemary Hall. Our class of 1961 does not identify with the Wallingford campus since RH was in Greenwich when we were there, but I did love St. John and he was so gracious to us on alumnae days. I do wish there were more of a presence if the old RH campus -why don't they buy St.Bedes, our chapel.

Love your site, even though I live in Hilton Head now.
Susie Mountrey

Anonymous said...

I am a current student at Choate, and I was excited to see that it hasn't really changed in 40 years. Do you have any other historic Choate photos?

Anonymous said...

This is great!
-CRH 07

Kristen said...

Even with the modern newer buildings, most of Choate still looks exactly the same. Thanks for the walk down memory lane!