What Matters Most?

PoohLast Sunday a small group gathered in the entry to Leslie Rhett Crosby’s (’83) lovely antebellum home downtown to honor departing Randolph Head of School Byron Hulsey.  As the current Board Chair, I followed the three prior Chairmen in rising to say something about Byron. City Councilman Mark Russell gave Byron a plaque from the City, a football signed by Nick Saban and an Auburn baseball cap. Foster McDonald wrote and read a poem that was the highlight of the night for me. Bob Thurber read a heartfelt letter describing how transformational Byron had been for the school and how much Byron had meant to him personally, it was wonderful, and a little emotional.

Then I stood on my friend Leslie’s graceful stairs and read a quote from A A Milne, a quote that reminded me of Byron and how he approaches his work at the School:

“There are some people who begin the Zoo at the beginning, called WAYIN, and walk as quickly as they can past every cage until they get to the one called WAYOUT, but the nicest people go straight to the animal they love the most, and stay there.” A. A. Milne

Byron acts like this. He and his staff know our kids; really, really knows them. He feels their successes in his heart,  as if they were each his own son or daughter. Likewise, he feels their failures like a cut, like a physical assault to his person. It’s painful for him to expel a kid for cheating, or to learn of a tragedy affecting our large family. He tries not to because he understands that a certain detachment is healthy. But he can’t help it. His genuine attachment to these kids will not allow for that kind of distance. He simply knows what matters most and it’s the kids. That concern is authentic and genuine and cannot be simulated.

What Byron wants for each kid is what we want for our own. He wants them to fail, and then learn. He wants them to be safe and then to get outside of that zone and grow into something they could not have imagined. He wants them to be curious and persistent; resilient, intellectually honest and morally grounded. He wants them to be loved and then to have their expectations for themselves challenged and expanded.

Byron and Jennifer have accomplished each of these and more in their eight years at Randolph and they leave us in a far better place than they found us. I cannot think of any higher praise.

So, as a grateful member of the larger Community of Learners that is now vibrantly growing and expanding at the School, I’ll quote A. A. Milne one more time:

“I wrote somewhere once that the third-rate mind was only happy when it was thinking with the majority, the second-rate mind was only happy when it was thinking with the minority, and the first-rate mind was only happy when it was thinking. A. A. Milne – Macmillan War Pamphlets 1940

Byron is only happy when he’s thinking and learning and growing as a person. I will miss being around that kind of character and will have to work hard to maintain the level of excellence with which Byron simply lives his life.  Thanks for everything Byron, we will follow your success with eagerness and not a little pride that we had your attention for a season.


PS. I was inspired to use A A Milne to tell this story by my daughter Sarah Fowler (’11). She has always told me that Byron reminds her of Christopher Robin’s little bear. He’s a serious guy by any measure but Sarah saw through it even as a child. She understood that under the neat suit and Headmaster’s bearing, there was clearly a loving and lovable, undeniably wise and cuddly bear-y best friend. I cherish that image and her relationship with her School. Byron was a big part of creating that atmosphere and we are all eternally grateful.