Every 4th of July, I can’t help but think “Galloway”.
Originally, it was Jeff, that I met years ago who began the fledgling Peachtree Road Race. He talked me into running in it in a moment of weakness. Then, it became a habit, until it was NOT.
Jeff is the owner of Phidippides, a running shoe store tradition in Atlanta. He recently suffered a heart attack, but after tending to it, he was back to run in this year’s race. Jeff is indeed a legend.
But my thoughts these days turn to another Galloway, Elliott, Jeff’s father. Elliot Galloway is a legend in education in Atlanta.
Elliott had grown up in Moultrie, Georgia. After military service in the Navy, and education at Wake Forest, he returned to Georgia, to work as a principal at Westminster School. then moving on as Headmaster at the fledgling Holy Innocents Episcopal School. He brought with him a philosophy which was child-centered, focusing on the needs and specific challenges of each student. This brought him into conflict with the board, and resulted in his being fired by Holy Innocents.
Taking this setback in stride, he went on to found the Galloway School, funding the renovation of a former building used for housing the poor. The benefactors were parents from Westminster and Holy Innocents who saw great value in his educational approach. The Galloway School has grown into one of the premier private schools in Atlanta with a special mission to bring out the particular and peculiar gifts of each individual student.
I had met Elliot years ago, and we kidded each other about our “Galloway” Scots connection. I always claimed him as a relative if you owed him money, and he said he did the same. But when I became Rector of Holy Innocents, and thus the Chairman of the Board of the largest parish-based Episcopal school in the United States, we now had a new connection.
As I was intent on improving the quality and spirit of the education at Holy Innocents School, I was natively drawn to engage Elliot not only in his history as a former headmaster, but also his educational philosophy. I came away with a clarity as to the fact that Elliot “imprinted” his DNA of child-centered education on the Holy Innocents School. And I was most thankful for that, as my two kids attended that school. It served us well.
As a part of our attempt to “up the voltage” of the Holy Innocents School, we wanted to insure that we kept that original spirit, that Galloway DNA. Our translation of that came to be expressed as “balanced excellence” which emphasized the three aspects of education: academics, arts, and athletics. Where as some of the other top-tier prep schools focused on one or two, we wanted to “do it all”, in a way of best serving our students and their future. We also included “a caring community”, but since it did not start with an “A”, it was kept as the base for the three in our rebranding.
Truth is, Holy Innocents Episcopal School was the gift of this time in my career as a priest. The outstanding, committed, passionate teachers gave sacrificially in their work with the children. The parents, although sometimes misguided and self-centered, were “all in” for their children, and invested heavily in money and time to provide this special style of education. And the members of my board were a challenge and a pleasure to work with in forming a vision for the future. The kids were so much fun to be with, from the young children, whose imagination and playfulness was still in full-tilt boogie mode, to the teenagers struggling with identity and self-differentiation from their parental units, and young adults weighing their alternatives of careers and college selection. To have my worked framed in the mix of this crucible of development was a dream come true. I loved Holy Innocents School and am proud of what we did in my tenure.
At one point in my career at Holy Innocents, we had made a number of changes to improve the culture at the school, one of which involved redirecting the career of the headmaster. At a going away party for the former Head, a couple of parents, who were not happy with the changes, took the opportunity to confront me, opining that I was “the worst thing that ever happened to their school”. I listened patiently as I received a two-barrel assault on my leadership.
As I recall, my mother’s reputation was actually called into question. I had been trained in “non-anxious presence” by Rabbi Edwin Friedman but my patience was wearing thin after their ten minute diatribe. In my peripheral vision, I caught a glimpse of a figure standing to my right. It was Elliott Galloway.
He waited until the couple, a lovely Christian couple, had finished their barrage. As I stood there, beaten and battered, Elliott came to my side, put his arm around me, and said, “Folks lose their minds when they are thinking about their children.” I smiled. I had learned that long ago, and now as a parent, I understood it even better. But his words, and his touch, communicated much more: I was not alone.
It began a deep collegiality that lasted for a number of years. In fact, I was able to get him a position on the Holy Innocents Board of Trustees, which was a recognition of his significant contribution to our school, which seemed to please him. He stands for me as a reminder of the courage it takes to be a real leader, the cost to live out of a passion that may not be understood, or appreciated.
In 2008, shortly after I left Holy Innocents, Elliott was attempting to run in his 35th Peachtree Road Race, the national event begun by his son. He wasn’t feeling well, so he stopped halfway through, something he had never done before. After resting at home, he was feeling better so he decided to complete the mileage left on his own. He chose a path that put him on an uphill grade, just for good measure. During that last run, he tripped and fell, hitting his head, causing an injury that ended his life. He was 87 years of age, saying he hoped to run until he was 90. And he also said in an interview that he “hoped he would “go” running up a hill.” He got his wish.
It was a sad day for Atlanta, particularly for this Atlantan who considered him as a mentor, a colleague, and a friend.
So on the 4th of July, I have many thoughts and memories that come to mind. I usually take the time to read the Declaration of Independence, and Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, which always moves me, and restores my hope for this experiment in democracy. But especially, I remember my friend Elliott Galloway, who embodied a spirit of compassionate education tempered by a resilient courage. Thanks for the embrace, my friend. You still touch me, my brother, and inspire.