LEWIS PERRY OF EXETER: A Gentle Memoir by William G. Saltonstall


Email this review


A portrait of the longtime principal of Phillips Exeter Academy, New Hampshire's top-drawer prep school, should offer caviar for the general public; but the author, Perry's successor, seems to have been hampered by a kind of institutional caution. As a result, this tribute--with its laudatory chronicle of Perry's accomplishments and a roil-call of all who contributed--has grace but no real grit. And only from bits of correspondence and speeches do we glimpse Perry's charm and dedication to his job. Saltonstall reviews Perry's small-town New England childhood as sixth child of a professor at Williams--where Perry himself graduated in 1898. Though popular, he was obviously not a scholar. As Saltonstall points out, ""Perry was not an extraordinarily gifted man""; rather, he had ""an appreciation of the value of talent in others as well as the willingness to encourage its development."" As principal of Exeter (from 1914), he was by all accounts immensely likable, democratic with the faculty, available to the students, and personally aristocratic--though he made friends in ""other strata"" (meanwhile clinging to minority quotas). He was also a whiz-bang fund raiser, and rather an innovator in secondary-school education with the ""Harkness Plan"" of the 1930s. Facilitated by a six-million-dollar gift from Perry's old friend, oil multimillionaire Edward S. Harkness, this switched the teaching emphasis from classwork to the individual student by reducing class-size, substituting discussion groups for lectures, increasing the size of the faculty, and expanding the physical plant accordingly. Saltonstall follows Perry's career through personal upheavals and successes, and writes affectionately of Perry's ebullient and busy retirement. With the appended tributes and a selection of speeches, a gentle tip-of-the-hat--but mainly for old boys.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1980
Publisher: Atheneum