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Remembering Dick Nunley

Ned Groth, April, 2016



Note: A supplement to this remembrance (an email to the class and an invitation to the Mount Greylock events), appears at the end of this piece, here.


(Author’s note: This remembrance is based on my memories of encounters with Dick, at Darrow and afterwards, and on documents and personal communications, including yearbooks, class newsletters, letters he wrote and conversations we had. I have woven in anecdotes from other classmates, other alumni and former faculty. I’ve tried to create an honest and loving portrait of our former master, as we knew him. While I’ve striven for accuracy, I take full responsibility for any errors. This account can be amended, if need to be, as others contribute their own memories to it.  –NG)


Description: C:\Users\Ned\Documents\Darrow\Faculty Memorials\Nunley\Yearbook 1962.jpgThe first issue, I guess, is what to call him. He always seemed to be “Mr. Nunley” or “Richard” to me, never (most assuredly not!) a Dick, but he mostly called himself Dick, so Dick he shall be here. He was an exemplary teacher, whom (along with Ron Emery and Richard Bethards, but if put to a vote, he probably would be rated as first among equals) most of us credit with helping us master the English language. He was an energetic and devoted housemaster, gently inserting himself into the lives of his charges and helping us through various crises we often didn’t realize we were having. He led Hands-to-Work crews, maintained decorum and sought to instill a semblance of good manners at the dining table, coached the tennis team. For most of our years at Darrow he was head of the English Department, served as Director of Studies, and as guidance counselor, he was responsible for helping us choose colleges and complete our applications. In short, like our other Darrow teachers, Dick was woven into our lives in innumerable ways, and left his mark—usually for better—on our developing minds and characters.

Unlike many other former faculty, Dick maintained close ties with Darrow long after he stopped teaching there. He and Sue lived just down the road from campus, and he served the school in various ways, as a member of search and fund-raising committees and as a Trustee. Even after he finally and fully retired and he and Sue moved out to Oregon, he stayed in touch with the school and his former colleagues and students, giving us a rich and unbroken trove of memories to draw on now.

Dick was at Darrow when the first of us arrived in the fall of 1958, having been hired by Mr. Heyniger in 1957 (see Heyniger Memorial for Dick's account of his hiring). The 1959 yearbook says Dick was born in Cohasset, Massachusetts, was graduated from high school in Marshfield, MA in 1949, and earned degrees from Dartmouth (1953, Phi Beta Kappa) and Cambridge (1955). After Cambridge, he served in the US Army for two years; his job at Darrow began right after he completed his Army hitch. When we met him, he was teaching sophomore and senior English, while Bill Aiken taught English to freshmen and juniors, and was the assistant house master (also with Bill, as I recall) in Hinckley.

The main impression I got, and I think we all got, of Dick was, intellectual. He spoke softly, with what sounded vaguely like a British accent (perhaps absorbed in his sojourn at Cambridge), though he was as American as the rest of us. He used big words. The standard comic impersonation of Dick (which we picked up from the upperclassmen during our first weeks on campus) had him dressing down a student reprobate in terms the target would almost certainly not comprehend: “You perverse, ostentatious, supercilious fool,” it went, at least in the version I heard often. Whether that was based on words that had actually issued from Dick’s mouth or was created by some satire-minded smart-aleck poring over his Roget’s one night, the shoe fit. It was one of the more enduring faculty parodies of our Darrow days, immortalized in this cartoon, which appeared in the 1960 yearbook.

Description: C:\Users\Ned\Documents\Darrow\Faculty Memorials\Nunley\Cartoon 1960.jpg

"Arouse yourself, you perverse, ostentatious, lethargic, impeturbable, apathetic, insipid, doltish oaf!"

My early impressions of Dick included some additional dimensions. His erudition had at least an implicit edge of condescension, which, in the kindest light, was probably intended as exhortation to us to aspire to higher things. He sometimes seemed somewhat, well, effete. Contrasting Dick with Bill Aiken, for instance: Bill, an accomplished poet, had also been a golden-gloves boxer, and was a very direct guy, built like a tank, the one you’d definitely want on your side in a street fight. Whereas, Dick, whose writing leaned more toward essays (wonderful essays—although he also wrote poems), in that hypothetical street fight again, seemed more like the guy you could imagine tiptoeing stealthily down the alleyway to avoid a physical  confrontation.

It did not take me long to revise some of those impressions. Dick was the master in charge of my first Hands-to-Work crew, helping clean out the old Dairy barn before it was remodeled as our new gym. He’d get down-and-dirty in his jeans and army fatigues jacket, and helped haul those huge Shaker beams out, just like any of Lamb Heyniger’s other indentured manual laborers. But it really took a couple of incidents in study hall to teach me that this gentle man, whose mind was on foremost display, had strengths I hadn’t noticed.

I was a perpetrator of the first incident. One autumn Sunday afternoon I’d explored the old Shaker mill, up behind the Dining Hall, and learned that the rickety walls housed a large bat colony. I went back to my room, fetched a pillowcase, took it back up to the mill, put it over a hole, banged on the wall, and when a bunch of bats flew out, captured them in my pillowcase. That evening, in study hall, I had the bats, still in the pillowcase, in my book bag. I let Duane Lehmann, who was sitting next to me, know what I had, and we agreed that Mr. Nunley, the master in charge that night, seemed a perfect target. We were sure that Dick, effete intellectual that he was, would be terrified by bats; he might even run screaming from the room. Duane kept an eye on Dick for me, and when his back was turned I bent down, opened my book bag and released the bats. When Dick looked around he saw four or five of them, flapping around the curved ceiling of the Meeting Room. He glanced up, muttered something like, “Huh, bats,” walked over to the windows, opened the upper sashes, and in a minute or two all the bats had flown out. I felt both deflated and impressed, and my opinion of Dick went up several notches.

I witnessed another encounter that was more adrenaline-laced. In our freshman year, there was a sophomore, Bill Clore, a NYC kid who fancied himself a hoodlum. He wore his hair long and slicked back (we called that style a “D.A.,” for duck’s ass), wore jack boots over black jeans, acted like a tough guy. He was really just a lost soul (or an asshole, depending on your perspective), and he was floundering—had no interest in and likely no aptitude for academic pursuits, was mainly into defying authority, working on getting kicked out. One night, Clore was dozing with his feet up on the table in study hall, much like the student in the cartoon above. Mr. Nunley was walking the aisles, and was carrying an unabridged (i.e., huge) dictionary, when he came upon Clore. Dick’s impulse-control failed him, and he whacked Clore on the head with the dictionary. Clore, rudely awakened, and as I remember, knocked out of his chair, scrambled to his feet, pulled out a switch-blade knife and threatened to slash his adversary. Showing no more effort than might be required to swat a mosquito, Dick smoothly executed a self-defense maneuver (learned in the Army?), grabbed Clore’s knife arm and spun him around. In about one second, the knife was on the floor, Dick was behind Clore and had his arm in a hammer-lock, and things were totally under control. Darrow’s experiment with Bill Clore came to a sad but probably inevitable end, and I learned a major lesson about judging people by superficial impressions.     

My sophomore year, I moved into Hinckley House, and Dick was now my housemaster. It was not until many years later—when I was on the Board of Trustees and sat in on a faculty meeting—that I realized how attuned to and aware of what was going on in students’ lives most of our masters were, and how they could intervene, judiciously and deftly, when situations that called for it arose. I experienced one of those “in loco parentis” interventions myself, without fully understanding it at the time. I and one of my roommates, Tom Bird, almost immediately developed an antagonistic relationship, which progressed by early winter to the point of physical violence. Tom had the upper bunk above me, and would amuse himself by reaching down at night to snatch off my blankets, leaving me uncovered, shivering in the dark. One night I lay in wait, and when his arm came snaking down, I grabbed his wrist, planted a foot under his butt in the mattress above, and pulled down on his arm while I thrust upward with all my leg strength. The leverage I had sent him literally flying out of the top bunk and crashing to floor (he might have been killed!) Fortunately, Tom was unhurt, but was sitting there on the floor, a bit stunned and really pissed off, when the door burst open and in ran Owen Kelly, one of the dorm seniors (drawn by the crash). “Bird, you’re out of bed after lights out!” Kelly exulted. “Come with me, we’ve got a whole bunch of shoes for you to shine!” I have to admit I was so busy gloating about that (it felt totally fair to me, since I saw Tom as my tormentor) that I really never thought about what could've just happened to Tom or what sort of revenge he might try to take the next time he got a chance.

Fortunately, more mature heads were soon focused on the problem. A few days after the incident just described, I slipped a piece of paper on which I’d written an insulting comment about Tom behind the glass of one of the Wickersham bulletin boards. (It said “Bird is incontinent,” by which I meant that he could not control his impulses—pot calling kettle black, etc.) I thought I’d be able to get away with it anonymously, but that night Pete von Mertens, student body president, showed up at my door and handed me the slip, saying “Is this yours?” Pete said Mr. Nunley wanted to chat with me, so I trudged glumly down the hall to his apartment. Dick did not seem angry; in fact the first thing he did (sensing a teachable moment) was to explain that I had misused the word “incontinent,” and give me its proper definition. He then asked me what was going on between me and Tom, sat there calmly while I ranted about what a weirdo Tom was, then softly suggested that we all have our idiosyncrasies, that I needed to be more tolerant, dial it back, make an effort to get along. I never had a sense that I was going to be punished (although I almost certainly should have been); instead it was all in the vein of, “Stuff like this happens. I know you can do better. Try harder.”

At about the same time, I got a 75 on a pop quiz in Math class, which hardly seemed like a big deal to me—one wrong answer on one quiz of dozens over the course of a quarter. But the next day my parents showed up on campus, ostensibly for a conference about my faltering Math performance. In fact I think they were there to confer with my housemaster about the conflict with my roommate, and Lester just provided a cover story. I know my parents were aware of the problem, because many years later, when cleaning out the study after my parents’ deaths, I came across the quarterly reports that Dick had sent home (as each housemaster did about each boy in his charge), which my mother had saved. Dick had written then of a “virulent personality conflict” between me and Tom, which he reported that he was monitoring and which seemed to have been peaceably resolved.

And in fact it was. I never asked Tom whether Dick also called him in for a counseling session, or asked his parents to come and confer. I do know that his intervention with me worked. I have never easily taken criticism, but I readily absorbed the subtly conveyed message from Dick that I was out of control and endangering myself and my roommate, and needed to try harder to get along. And I/we did. We didn’t pretend to like each other very much, but we coexisted peaceably for the rest of the year, remained cordially aloof until we both were graduated, and have gradually become friends in the years since. Looking back on it all from the perspective of decades, I am struck by how unobtrusively and smoothly Dick defused this adolescent crisis, helping us both emerge comparatively undamaged and at least in my case, learning from it. I’m inclined to think the Darrow faculty as a whole did that all the time—observed and quietly managed our lives when we weren’t doing such a good job of it ourselves, in ways we often never appreciated or were even aware of. (Sometimes we did notice and appreciate it—see Carl Sharpe’s anecdote in the memorial for Des McCracken.) Perhaps that was just part of the job description of being a housemaster in a small boarding school, but I think Dick was really very good at it, and I am thankful that he was there for me when I needed it.

By the time junior year rolled around, Brethren’s Workshop was opened as the newest and largest dorm on campus, and Dick became its housemaster, inheriting a new population of personalities to manage and interact with. Boys being boys, some of his new flock also tried (as we must have needed to at some atavistic level) to provoke and torment the nearest authority figure, i.e., Dick. What we each recall about that dynamic, 56 years later, probably says more about us than it reveals what actually transpired, but the anecdotes I've collected portray a truthful-sounding slice of life at Darrow in 1960-62.

Peter Gorday recalls he and his roommates (Ho, Hoon, Hopper) "yelling down to Dick in his apartment at night after lights-out in order to aggravate him, until he came running up to shut us up." Carl Sharpe, on the other hand, describes rather more wicked "prank we pulled on him." "We" being Carl, John Prentiss and (Carl thinks) John Cavallo. "My job was to get 'extra help' from math teacher and assistant dorm master Stephen Jones while John and John went into Nunley's room and placed firecrackers under his bed (we of course knew he was out for a while). An extended fuse was then passed through the floor boards into the head below, rolled up, and left there. About midnight, we went down the fire escape, through the back door and into the head where we lit the fuse. We ran up the fire escape and jumped into our beds and waited. We heard the firecrackers go off—a huge, loud volley. We muffled great laughter under our beddings.  Mr. Nunley came storming up the stairs at a rapid pace and we expected that he would burst into our room. But he went right past it, up the stairs to the third floor and banged on the door of Eddie McIlvain, dragged him out of his bed and brought him to his apartment, where we imagined he got the Description: C:\Users\Ned\Documents\Darrow\Faculty Memorials\Nunley\CMS & RWN at 25th reunion.jpgthird degree. We laughed ourselves to sleep. Poor Eddie! We told Mr. Nunley that we had done it at one of our reunions and he was amazed, remembering the incident well." (At left, Carl catching up with RWN at our 25th reunion.Could the photographer have captured the confessional moment?)

Another prank that involved John Prentiss (one I don't think he ever confessed to) unfurled one wintry night. John and I were both in Horton Durfee's chemistry class, and we'd had lab that afternoon. We were making sulfides, using hydrogen sulfide, H2S, aka "rotten egg gas." After lab was over and Horton left the room, John took a condom out of his wallet and filled it up from the H2S gas cylinder. If you have ever read Consumer Reports test reports on condoms, you know that they expand like balloons, to an enormous volume. John made himself a large H2S-filled balloon, tied it off, wrapped it up in his coat, and snuck it into his room over at Brethren's. Sometime that evening—I don't recall whether it was before or after lights out—he took it down to the basement and popped it. The stench of rotten eggs quickly permeated the building and the dorm emptied—36 or so kids milling around out behind the building, shivering in their pajamas while Dick went through their rooms opening windows to air things out. The number of suspects who'd been in chem lab that day and lived in Brethren's had to be very small, but I don't think John was ever nailed for the prank.

Others remember kinder, gentler interactions. Bronnie Smith, who was a sophomore when we were seniors, recalls that Dick "was an avid reader, and he started a book club where we could purchase paperback books and trade them with others when finished." John Ho recounts that every Sunday, "Mr. Nunley gathered up the five or six of us who were Catholics and drove us to attend mass in New Lebanon. Each autumn he picked up a bushel of apples while he waited for us outside of the Catholic church.  He brought it back to Brethren's and placed it next to the front door. I believe he did that because he cared for us."

Of course, Dick's primary reason for being at Darrow was to teach us English, and by the time we came back for our senior year we were eagerly looking forward to his class. Peter Gorday remembers Dick as "a fascinating combination of the exotic and the practical. In the classroom he introduced us to Old and Middle English literature by reading from “Beowulf” and “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight,” in the original languages yet! Something about the zest and flair with which he did these readings, and then discussed them, must have penetrated my consciousness, because I have loved those languages and that literature ever since. I learned and memorized more poetry in his class than I have ever done since. What a great teacher!"

I also recall studying "Beowulf" with Dick, but my remembrance differs from Peter's. It was a classic, yes, and to be sure, I was glad to become familiar with it, but one line was especially memorable: "Grendel, this monster grim was called," it went. That line resonated especially with those who played football and had noted the crushing running style of their new teammate at fullback, and a few hours after we read that portion of "Beowulf," people started calling Anson "Grendel." It stuck, he soon accepted it as a compliment, and we still call him that. I'm not sure Dick gets credit for it, but possibly so.

Carl Sharpe recounts, "There were likely few better English teachers than Dick Nunley. We respected him and liked him immensely. He was many things to us and to me: exacting, thorough, inspiring, committed. He bred in me a love for poetry that stayed with me my whole life. I still take out The College Survey of English Literature (our senior text) from time to time and read Milton or Wordsworth or some other choice. I was so taken by the poetry he loved that I memorized poems and passages just out of sheer love for the words that he helped instill in me. I can still recite much of it. It takes a mighty fine English teacher to do that for a reprobate from Worcester, Massachusetts. I have to add that he was a great writing teacher. I have several memories of sitting with him in Brethren’s going over my themes. From concept to word choice, he would cover it all. As a result I became a very good writer and became a writing instructor for most of my life. Indeed it was Mr. Bethards and Mr. Nunley who were my inspiration to teach and I will be forever grateful to them both for helping me to lead a professional life which I would never second guess or regret."

I think most of us would second Carl's sentiment. It also seemed to me that Dick was always teaching, or trying to, in practically any context (viz. my encounter with him as my housemaster, described above.) For instance, Peter adds, "In his capacity as chapel speaker, he particularly loved, as I recall, the little Epistle of James from the New Testament, with its emphasis on good works as well as faith in any healthy spirituality. In the same line, he loved the writing of Ralph Waldo Emerson with its pragmatic wisdom and plain old common sense. The upshot was Dick’s favorite line, ‘What you are speaks so loudly that I can’t hear what you say.’ Be the real thing, and only then are you entitled to talk about it. What a wise guide! “

Pete Loomis recounts a lesson Dick conveyed one evening in study hall. "One time he started off the study hall by giving us a little lecture in which he reminded us that our parents were sacrificing for us to be there. He said, 'Remember, boys (!!), your parents are spending one nickel for every minute you are here. Every minute, one nickel!' A nickel per minute works out to about $20K for 9 months, so maybe he meant every hour of daylight--or class time--whatever. Or maybe the term "nickel" was picked out of the air and used for effect. In any event, I remember it, so it must have worked to some degree."

Dick even used pink slips (awarding penalty hours for rules infractions) as a teaching medium. I was goofing around in class one afternoon and Dick, short on patience that day or perhaps needing to show that no one was above the law, tossed me out. When I got the pink slip, my offense was described as "fatuousness." I had to look it up. (So can you.) Ever the pedagogue, Dick was.

Some of our classmates had more devastating disciplinary encounters with Dick. Two of us—Gene Cook and Howdy Davis—were expelled for drinking, both in similar, somewhat ambiguous situations. Each was old enough to drink legally in New York at the time, and had had a beer or two on the way back to school from vacation. Mr. Heyniger was a teetotaler and had a rigid no-drinking, one-strike-and-you're- out policy, and in his eyes, when you were en route back to school you were under Darrow jurisdiction. Dick was the MOD when Gene and Howdy each arrived back on campus with beer on their breath, in two different years. He was the enforcer who "caught" them and in effect got them expelled. In Gene's case, Dave Griswold suspected that Dick didn't really like Gene or think he belonged at Darrow; Gene was, after all, a tough kid from Poughkeepsie who was running with a gang when his parents sent him to Darrow in a last-ditch effort to turn his life around. In fact it did just that, and the effect had taken place before he was tossed, and Gene always loved the school for that despite being expelled.

Dave also thinks Dick may have blamed Gene for a destructive prank some students played on him. Dick had an old rattletrap car, which one night was rolled out into the middle of the muddy football field, where the air was let out of all the tires. The temperature dropped far below freezing that night and in the morning the flat tires were frozen to the ground. They could not be inflated, and when Dick tried to unmoor the car by driving it, all four tires were destroyed. Dave is convinced that Dick thought Gene pulled that stunt; Dave insists that Gene was not involved, and someday we may want to ask him how he knows that. But Dave has always wondered whether a bit of personal animus, based on unresolved anger over an ill-conceived prank, might have tipped the scale against Gene when Dick found he had had a beer on the train, and had to decide whether to let it slide. We missed the chance to ask Dick how he recalled these events, so we can never know all that might have been involved.

Dave has also, while most of us have summoned only positive memories of Dick, been clear-eyed about his human frailties. Of course, Dave remembers Dick as super-smart and a wonderful teacher. But he also experienced Dick's condescending persona, and that left its mark too. Dave wrote, "I recall a report he sent to my parents saying, 'David is in no danger of succumbing to overachievement.'  Years later, I met him at a reunion and thanked him for all he'd taught me. I told him I was writing résumés in Georgia to help people find jobs and could not have done it without his help. Of course, I expected him to say, thank you David or I knew you would do well or maybe, I saw potential in you. Instead, he looked at me with a slight smile and said, 'Reeeeeeally, I didn’t know people in Georgia could read!'” I admit, that sounds like Dick, at a weaker moment. Many of us probably saw that side of him, but didn't give it much weight, given his many strengths.

Another key role Dick played at Darrow was guidance counselor, the one who helped us choose and apply to colleges. John Ho recalls the "wise guidance" he got from Dick, and Dave Benson is even more explicit: "At the end of our senior year he told me not to go to college from Darrow but rather to go out in the world and find out about life.  Thus I did not go to the University of Puget Sound, the only school that would have me, and went into the Air Force.  I found myself stationed in England working under a man who could not put six words together to form an English sentence. After the Surgeon General of the Air Force put a stripe on that man's sleeve based on my work,  I understood that I needed education and took a couple of night classes. Upon getting out of service, I went through Colorado College in two years and three months.  (As a Princeton man you probably know that Harvard is the Colorado College of the east.)  I do believe Mr. Nunley always had our best interest at heart." 

Carl Sharpe credits the same trio of pranksters involved with the Brethren's firecracker caper described earlier (i.e., himself, John P and John C) with composing this ditty:

Dicky Nunley, give me your answer true:

Will I be accepted at the College of Kalamazoo?

It won’t be a stylish acceptance

But I can’t afford a rejectance,

‘Cause you’ll look sweet

Upon the seat

Of an electric chair built for you—Dicky Poo.


Carl adds, "To the best of my knowledge, he never heard the song."

One somewhat anomalous job Dick had at Darrow was coaching the tennis team. He didn't seem very athletic, but as Des McCracken mused about his role as hockey coach, the job was in large part driving, managing equipment, court maintenance and other chores, and as Des also exemplified, one need not play the sport to coach it well.  I asked a few guys who played tennis at Darrow what kind of coach Dick was, and heard back only from Bronnie Smith, who said "My memory fails me. Ed McIlvain and I built the tennis courts during Hands to Work and they were poor clay courts at best. But truthfully Ed and I (and I can’t remember who else) were a pretty good tennis team. After graduation from Darrow,  I attended the University of South Carolina where I played on the varsity tennis team for two years...As for Dick Nunley, I don’t think his passion was holding a tennis racket, but then again he may have been our inspiration for success."

Description: C:\Users\Ned\Pictures\My Scans\scan0004.jpgOne oddity is that Dick never appeared in the tennis team photos in the yearbooks—just the players are pictured. In fact, except for the obligatory faculty portraits (one of which leads off this memorial), Dick is virtually invisible in the yearbooks. He is in a single extra-curricular activity shot (the "play-reading club," 1959), no Hands-to-Work photos, no candids in the collages. There's one shot of someone who could be Dick, holding up a sacramental plate before the altar in the chapel, but his face is obscured, and I can't swear it's he. His short-term dog, Chino—a big German shepherd that was a racist attack dog, went after the kitchen staff and Dick got rid of him very quickly—made it into one yearbook, but Dick isn't even in that photo. I suspect it took some effort to avoid having one's picture in the yearbook—perhaps aided by being faculty advisor to the publication. This may have reflected an idiosyncratic desire on Dick's part to keep as low a profile as he could. In any case, it explains the almost complete absence of photos of Dick from our years at Darrow in this essay up to here.

After we all left Darrow in 1962, Dick stayed on for eight more years, and was a familiar presence when we came back to visit. He was a bachelor for the four years we were there, but one faculty wife, Marylou Anderson, picked up hints of a future family man. "He was the only faculty member (it was spring break), who came to visit me in the hospital - in Pittsfield - when Fergie was born.  Dick brought flowers for me and a bib for Fergie.  Very sweet."

I doubt that any of us knew it then, but Dick had a girlfriend, albeit a distant one. Dick and Sue (who is British) met when he was at Cambridge. This photo of the young couple was sitting in their living room in Portland in 2014; Sue later told me it was taken in Brethren's in 1966 or so.  

Sue, whose maiden name was Stroud, and Dick were married on December 19, 1965, and at first they lived in that apartment in Brethren's. But Dick, with an eye on the future, had purchased a plot Description: C:\Users\Ned\Documents\Darrow\Faculty Memorials\Nunley\Young Marrieds, or maybe Fiances.JPGof land just off campus, along the road down to the valley, just below the North Family dwellings. He and Sue designed and built a home there, a modest ranch house, painted grey, surrounded with gardens. They named it "Garden Hill;" it sits on a west-facing shoulder of Mt. Lebanon and has a spectacular view of the valley. When I gathered news for our first class newsletter, in 1968, Dick wrote that "little of note" had happened to him of late, then sort of mentioned-in-passing that he and Sue had moved into the still-unfinished house with their year-old daughter. "Little of note," indeed. They had Description: C:\Users\Ned\Documents\Darrow\Faculty Memorials\Nunley\From Diana's Facebook Page.jpgoutgrown the dorm and were settling into a new off-campus existence. Felicity soon came along to join Diana (at right and below), and the house began to fill up with family life.

In 1970 Dick left Darrow and began teaching English at Berkshire Community College in Pittsfield, where he remained for about 25 years. As Diana described him in an obituary she wrote, at BCC Dick was known as "…an exacting teacher with high expectations for all; many former students credit him with changing the course of their lives." Uh Huh. Dick, Sue and the girls loved their home on Shaker Road, and lived there as the kids grew up. When Dick had finally retired and they moved out to Portland in 2003, they left Garden Hill behind, but used as their new email address gardenhillwest@aol.com. Being nearby, Dick was easy to find when we came back to campus. While we were there for our 15th reunion, Howdy Davis and I dropped in for a visit. I recall that the house was airy and well-lit and featured several musical instruments—Sue played the piano (so did Dick, although I don't recall he ever did so in public), and the girls were learning to play cello and flute, respectively. I wrote in the Class Newsletter that "alarmingly mature children—not all of them his and Sue's—were running in and out of the house."

Description: F:\NED'S PHOTOS\Darrow '62\Faculty\Nunley\Poetry Reading 1975.jpgDespite having left the faculty—he told me years later, off-the-record then, that John Joline had asked him to leave because they so often disagreed—Dick also remained connected, by both proximity and lasting affection, to Darrow. The Peg Board occasionally reported his appearances on campus; he gave a poetry reading in fall of 1975, pictured here, and the audience was described as "enthusiastically responsive." As the years went by, the school called on Dick more often as an "elder statesman" and historian—someone who had worked with Lamb Heyniger and John Joline, for example, and could come speak about how the school had been back then, what had changed and what was still the same.

For one so devoted to and talented at writing, Dick did not correspond with me often in my role as editor of the Class Newsletter; he once confessed that he "loathed" writing letters. Generally when we had news from Dick, it came from someone else who'd seen him. One of the more memorable anecdotes was provided by Ron Emery, who recounted how Dick and Sue had been visiting with Horton Durfee and his family at the latter's summer place in Geneva (NY), and the chair of the English Department at Hobart, Horton's alma mater, came over for lunch one day. He complained that his drama instructor had suddenly resigned, leaving him in the lurch for the fall term. Horton and Dick sort of lit up and said "Have we got a guy for you…." Meaning Ron, of course, who was recently back from Saudi Arabia and looking for a job, and was hired by Hobart that August. We also would get regular Nunley "sightings" from Des McCracken and Don Sutherland, among others.

Description: C:\Users\Ned\Desktop\Diana & Felicity.jpg

While Dick may not have been much for correspondence, he was quite a prolific writer. For some 25 years, he wrote a column called "Our Berkshires" for the Berkshire Eagle. He could take any topic that caught his mind—the seasons, a poem—and say something interesting. As Diana characterized it, "His columns challenged readers to connect the dots between vignettes of Berkshire life and his favorite poets and thinkers, and revealed the thoughtful, caring and generous man that he was." Dick wrote an essay on "The Shaker Alphabet Board" (an artifact at Darrow) for the Spring 1993 Peg Board; I don't know if that one also was in the Eagle. Another column celebrated an organic peony farm in Stephentown operated by Brian Baker; though Dick didn't know it, Brian is a classmate and friend of mine from Princeton (Small World Department, 1). Dick also wrote on "The Living Machine," Darrow's new sewage treatment system; many of his essays had tie-ins to Darrow. He edited a book of essays about the region, The Berkshire Reader, published in the 1990s. Toward the end of his life, his daughters began posting links to some of his columns on Facebook, and you can probably Google them now.



Description: F:\NED'S PHOTOS\Darrow '62\Faculty\Nunley\scan0200.jpgDescription: C:\Users\Ned\Documents\Darrow\Faculty Memorials\Nunley\With CDB at Samson Center Dedication, October 1998.jpg


As the years went by, Dick was often on campus for Reunions, and many of us got to reconnect with him there. In contrast to his near-invisibility in our yearbooks, pictures of Dick appeared in the Peg Board all the time—greeting Peter Gorday at our 40th reunion, or posing with other returning faculty (see below). The pair above show Dick celebrating Charles Brodhead at the Reunions ceremony honoring CDB in 1997, and giving Charles a tour at the dedication of the Samson Environmental Center in 1998.

Description: F:\NED'S PHOTOS\Darrow '62\Faculty\Nunley\scan0371.jpgAround 1995, when I was running a small test program (among my other roles) at Consumers Union, I got a letter from a young woman named Carolyn Nunley, inquiring about any possible job openings. Carolyn had a BA in chemistry from Skidmore and an MA in public health from Yale, and was doing environmental health research for an NGO in New York City. She was just the sort of person I'd want to hire, if I'd had an open position, but I wasn't hiring then. I interviewed her anyway, thinking longer-term, and my first question was "Are you any relation to Richard Nunley?" She replied, "Why, yes, he's my uncle." (Small World Department, 2.) This photo, from her Facebook page, shows young CarolynDescription: C:\Users\Ned\Documents\Darrow\Faculty Memorials\Nunley\Carolyn & Dick, undated.jpg with her father Bob—note the fraternal resemblance. As thingsworked out, one of my staff members left CU a year or two later, and I did hire Carolyn, who worked with me until I retired in 2004 (and stayed at CU after I left). In addition to her many talents as an employee, I was delighted to have Carolyn around as an additional connection with Dick and Sue.

In 1993, the school persuaded Dick to join the Board of Trustees; he served there for 10 years, chaired the Education Committee and offered sage counsel to school heads Larry von Meter and Nancy Wolf and their faculty. He taught an occasional class as well. In 2000, the school honored Dick at Reunions; the Peg Board ran a tribute Description: F:\NED'S PHOTOS\Darrow '62\Faculty\Nunley\Peg Board 2-12.jpgwith remembrances from several students from our era. Dick also served on the boards of the Hancock Shaker Village and the Tannery Pond Concerts.

Time went by, as it does. The girls grew up and moved away. Diana married Eric Johnson; they live in Minneapolis now, and have two daughters, Hanna and Elena. The Peg Board reported In the spring of 1996 that Felicity would marry Patrick Meigs in the Darrow chapel that summer. They eventually settled inPortland, OR, and also have two children, Helen and Norris. Dick retired from BCC, and in 2003 he and Sue left Garden Hill behind, moving out to Portland, near Felicity, Pat and half of their grandchildren.

They first lived in a small house not far from Reed College, and a few years ago moved to Willamette View, an assisted-living complex; in one of his rare emails, Dick said "It's the right place for us now." They stayed in touch with friends in the Berkshires, and Dick's brother Bob (Carolyn's father) lived in Maine; they'd come back for visits every year or so. They also loved visiting with Phyllis Howard, widow of Norris Howard, another ex- Darrow teacher.Description: C:\Users\Ned\Pictures\My Scans\scan0005.jpg Norris died in 1995; he and Phyllis owned a camp in the Adirondacks. Dick and Sue visited there 42 or 43 times, Dick told me. This photo, from the Peg Board in2004,shows Dick, Sue, Nancy Wolf and Phyllis at one such reunion. In the summer of 2014, Carolyn mentioned that Dick, Sue and their kids were coming east, and I tried toarrange to meet them along their route, for a gathering with the Class of '62. But their trip was tightly scheduled and they couldn't squeeze in another event, so we missed them. I was out in Seattle for a meeting that August, though, and drove down to Portland for a visit. We had a pleasant lunch in their apartment (catered by the kitchen at their complex), caught up on recent events, and I took a few photos.Sue had fallen not long before and had quite a shiner, although she was otherwise unhurt. They seemed to be still in full command mentally, while getting a bit frail physically. Felicity had arranged my visit, but she couldn't join us; she told me her parents were managing their lives pretty well, althoughscheduling was a somewhat weak area that they'd delegated to her.

Description: C:\Users\Ned\Documents\Darrow\Faculty Memorials\Nunley\Dick & Sue, Portland 2014.JPGAs it turned out, that was the last time I was in touch with Dick. In early March, Carl Braun passed on the sad news that Dick had had a massive stroke. Henever regained consciousness, and passed away a day or two later.

The tributes that came pouring in echoed the themes seen here; brilliant teacher, public intellectual, part of Darrow in so many ways, mentor to generations of students. A Peg Board profile once described him as "always available, never familiar, someone boys could go to and respect at the same time." In the family's obituary, Diana quoted one of Dick's poems: "How simple happiness is, really.”  She added, "That lesson may be Dick’s greatest legacy to all who remember him—whether it’s to be found in a delicate spring bloom, a morning walk, or a fresh-baked loaf of bread."

Our Class will remember him as a scholarly, gentle man who inspired us with his erudition, his wisdom and his love of literature, and who unobtrusively helped us navigate the perils of adolescence. We knew of course he could not live forever, but we willmiss him deeply.

The school will hold a memorial service for Dick at Reunions this year, June 17-19, 2016, and several members of our class plan to attend.


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Two final photos, at left graddaughters Elena and Hanna, and at right, Dick in "Elder Statesman" mode, from the Peg Board, 1996.








Supplement: An email to the class (8.3.16) and an invitation to the Mount Greylock events (7.26.16)



Hello, Classmates and Friends,


This past weekend I attended a series of events in memory of Dick Nunley, organized by his family as a memorial for him. There was a picnic at Tanglewood on Friday, a hike and catered breakfast atop Mt. Greylock on Saturday morning, a very beautiful memorial service in the Tannery/chapel at Darrow, a meal after the service in the Dairy Barn where people could sit together and share memories, a bonfire that evening (which turned into an indoor event because it was raining) for more sharing of Dick stories. There was also a Hands-to-Work session and brunch on Sunday, which I couldn't stay for. Altogether it was a wonderfully planned and executed series of events, a fitting tribute to a man who would probably have shuddered at the very idea of tribute. I was able to meet Dick's children, sons-in-law, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, extended family, and to catch up with Sue. Also in attendance were many friends of the family, including three Durfee children (and some grandchildren) and a variety of others who knew Dick at Darrow, including alumni from half a dozen classes and two former school heads.


I am not sure whether Diana and Felicity are planning to post any kind of summary of the events, photos, etc., but if they do, I'll pass on word to all of you.



* * * * * *



 From: Diana and Eric Johnson <diandericjohnson@yahoo.com>
Cc: Felicity Nunley <patfel@comcast.net>;
Sent: Tue, Jul 26, 2016 11:12 am
Subject: Dick Nunley memorial--Mt Greylock hike and/or breakfast

We look forward to seeing you for breakfast at Bascom Lodge on Mt. Greylock Saturday morning at 9:30, rain or shine!

If you are using GPS to find Mt. Greylock, use the address 30 Rockwell Road, Lanesborough, Mass. Be aware that you will be driving about 7 miles up a winding road beyond the visitor center at the bottom, so add about 15-20 minutes to the travel time your GPS estimates. Also, cell phone coverage is spotty in the area so you might want to bring along a paper version of the directions.

The meal will be $16/person. Please bring cash or a check made out to Diana Johnson.

If you are interested in joining some of us for a hike before breakfast, we will be doing the Rounds Rock short loop (0.7 mile, est 30 minutes, easy terrain). Meet at 8:20 at the Rounds Rock trailhead parking lot on the right side of the road a couple of miles or so in from the main gate. We will start hiking at 8:30. If it is raining, we will skip the hike and go straight to breakfast!

See you then!
Diana, Felicity, Sue et al.

Other Messages:



Malaucene, 24/8/16


Dear Ned,


I have been away for most of the summer, but have been most sad to hear that Dick Nunley has died.


I well remember the cold winter of 1960/61 at Darrow when Lambert Heyniger had just died, and Mr Brodhead was provisional head, and Dick Nunley played a large part in guiding the school through  that period.


I would like to add my condolences (and also happy memories) to the many that have already that have already gone before.


My best wishes to you .          Patrick Evans

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