Rob Carter ’80: Close Lifer
In St. Albans speak, a “Close lifer” is a student who starts at Beauvoir pre-kindergarten (formerly “nursery school”) and, fourteen years later, graduates from NCS or St. Albans. Add to that more than three decades of volunteer service to St. Albans, and you get devoted alumnus and volunteer Rob Carter ’80, who is redefining what it means to be a Close lifer.
Soon after graduating from college, Rob began volunteering as class secretary, writing alumni class notes for the Bulletin. Today, he is co-chairing the STRIVE Campaign.
This fall, Rob’s son Mac has entered C Form, as a member of the Class of 2022. Just days before School opened, Rob reminisced about his own St. Albans experience and shared what he and his wife, Ronnie, hope Mac will discover at St. Albans.
How did you first come to STA?
I was lucky enough that my parents had the ability and good sense to get me started at Beauvoir when I was three or four, and then I somehow managed to make it all the way through twelfth grade at St. Albans. I was a lifer. There were a few others in my graduating class: We made up the 14-Years-on-the-Cathedral-Close Club.
Who was your C Form teacher?
I had Ted Hoskinson ’65, who was great fun and a wonderful first homeroom teacher and with whom I still keep in touch. His classroom was a welcoming environment for kids. Not all the C Form masters in the 1970s were as friendly, so I felt lucky about that.
How would you describe your STA days?
At St. Albans, I tried to do many different things—none of them particularly well! I loved English and reading and writing—so I was definitely in the right place for that. I loved playing sports, and although I didn’t particularly excel at any, I participated in tennis, lacrosse, football, and golf. Ice hockey was by far my favorite and my best sport, but the School didn’t have a team back then. We petitioned to get winter athletic credit for playing ice hockey outside School, but we were turned down. So I was thrilled when St. Albans brought hockey on as a varsity sport.
Around ninth grade, I became very involved in the Drama Program in Trapier Theater. The director was Ted Walch, one of those legendary St. Albans figures. [He now teaches in Los Angeles at the Harvard-Westlake School, headed until spring 2013 by former St. Albans history teacher Tom Hudnut.] He ran not only the Drama Program during the school year but also a summer repertoire theater in Trapier called Shakespeare & Co. For two summers, I worked in the box office. I kept the coffee hot and watched the backstage lockbox where the actors would put their jewelry and watches for safekeeping during performances.
Kate Collins (NCS ’77 and daughter of astronaut Michael Collins ’48) was manager of the box office; she went on to great fame as a TV soap opera actress. Other actors included Jim Tibbetts, a longtime NCS English teacher; Tom Hudnut from St. Albans; Carey Cromelin (NCS ’75), who later appeared on Guiding Light; Eric Zwemer ’72, a Broadway actor (also now teaching at Harvard-Westlake); Clancy Brown ’77, who went on to portray the captain of the prison guards in Shawshank Redemption and an evil Kurgan in Highlander, but whom young kids will know as the voice of Mr. Krab on SpongeBob SquarePants. Roger Marmet ’80, a classmate who remains a good friend, was the chief stage manager and pretty much ran Trapier Theater. It was a neat experience. We were—gosh—15 years old, and we were part of the company, the greater company of Shakespeare & Co.
My senior year, I produced the Lab Shows [equivalent to today’s One Acts], student-directed and student-acted plays that we put on in a small basement auditorium at NCS. We felt responsible and had a motivation to get things right, but with no grades and very little adult supervision. It was a lot of fun–I remember directing a scene from Neil Simon’s The Odd Couple and casting my classmates Guy Buckle ’80 and Chris Meyers ’80 as Oscar and Felix. Also in my senior year, I had the privilege of directing a very small scene in a school production of Pericles. To have that kind of extracurricular high school activity at such a high level was an incredible experience.
“To be in this environment of people who are trying to do the right thing and the best thing for the students and the rest of the community is invigorating.”
—STRIVE Campaign Co-Chair Rob Carter ’80
With your son starting in C Form this fall, how are you feeling?
I’m excited. I hope Mac will take advantage of many things that I didn’t think to pursue. I’m also eager for Mac to attend because St. Albans is a different school, a better school than when I went here, mostly because there is so much more warmth and happiness around St. Albans today.
What do you hope Mac gains from an STA education?
I hope that Mac will build on what my wife, Ronnie, and I are trying to instill as a moral compass and that he will come to find it easy to discern right from wrong.
Every day, I am reminded that everyone at St. Albans, starting with the faculty and staff, is focused on doing the right thing—and doing excellent things—unfailingly and tirelessly. I never hear anyone say, “I am going to stop now; that’s good enough.” It’s a moral drive, motivated by a desire to do the right thing and do your best. People are constantly doing the right thing. It’s not accidental: it starts at the top with Vance Wilson and then permeates throughout the School.
One example I’ve observed as a Governing Board member: For years, St. Albans tried to make living in Washington affordable for faculty by purchasing houses near School for them to live in for free. The School eventually realized that these teachers were retiring without equity or a credit history and were having trouble finding affordable places to live after leaving St. Albans. So the School stopped buying real estate and instead began the faculty-staff mortgage assistance program to provide generous mortgage stipends to faculty and staff members. Same idea—let’s try to make living near the School affordable for those faculty and staff for whom it might otherwise not be, but let’s provide an opportunity to build equity and ownership at the same time. The School took a great idea and made it better.
So, to circle back to the answer: it’s the constant striving to do the right thing and the desire for excellence that I hope becomes second nature to Mac. More than anything, I would love for Mac to learn how to do the right thing without having to think about it.
“The power—the awesomeness—of being on the Cathedral Close was a big part of my St. Albans experience that I hope my son learns to appreciate.”
—STRIVE Campaign Co-Chair Rob Carter ’80
What kind of academic aspirations do you have for your son?
I hope Mac will learn to love reading, writing, and using language as much as I and other graduates have. I hope that he learns to love other subjects, too: I don’t know what they are going to be—and he doesn’t either yet—but I hope he finds teachers and subjects that fascinate him and that he will be eager to learn more about for the rest of his life.
As we head toward the athletic field upgrades, any thoughts about the athletic program?
The quote from [former Athletic Director] Skip Grant about every boy needing to sweat every day is true. I know my kids need to get outside and run around every day. And, of course, it’s important for a School to have healthy, fun, safe places that are conducive to doing that. We need to provide that for our students and so it’s high time we upgraded the fields.
And I don’t think anyone disagrees. I think St. Albans must have the greatest fielding infielders in all of baseball because I am sure there’s not a true hop that comes off the baseball field. And the track: we taught our kids to ride bikes on the track because it’s such a soft mess it doesn’t hurt when they fall down. It’s mushy, like a bowl of oatmeal! If I could teach every kid to ride a bike on that surface I would, but that’s not what it’s there for. We’re obliged to do better—and we will.
What do you hope Mac takes away from STA?
I hope he forges lifelong friendships and bonds with his classmates, of course, and I hope he comes away from his experience at St. Albans with a joy for the spiritual and a readiness to question and learn more about all things spiritual. As parents we try to teach him how to worship and what it means to be a spiritual human being—just as we try to teach him how to read and to throw a football. We try hard to teach spirituality, but the opportunity St. Albans provides, standing in the shadow of Washington National Cathedral, is an opportunity that very few have to live it—day in, day out.
It never ceases to astound me that we, as a school community, have the opportunity to spend time together in the Cathedral. Opening Day, Commencement, retirement services for teachers such as Paul Piazza and Paul Barrett—all take place in the Cathedral. Each service offers testament to the power of a physical space like Washington National Cathedral.
As I walked out of the Cathedral after the funeral of [former St. Albans Headmaster and history teacher] Jack McCune, an elderly alumnus walking beside me remarked: “Standing room only in the sixth largest cathedral in the world… for a history teacher!” If that doesn’t say something about St. Albans I don’t know what does.
The power—the awesomeness—of being on the Cathedral Close was a big part of my St. Albans experience that I hope my son learns to appreciate.
Finally, I would like Mac to learn not to take himself too seriously; that there are bigger things that inform us and oversee us. I think St. Albans helps young men understand—whether in the spiritual, the intellectual, or the athletic realm—that, win or lose, life goes on, and it’s a wonderful thing to be able to laugh at oneself—often—because much of human existence is comical and light, even at its most important moments.
I see this combination of humility and humor, wisdom and wit—a sort of light-hearted seriousness—in the teaching style of Paul Barrett, the epiphany services of Will Billow, the tributes Alex Ross ’86 delivers for retiring teachers, and the Caring Bridge blog postings written by the family of a young alumnus, Vadim Medish ’12.
Why do you give so much of your mind, time, and energy to STA?
Every meeting I have ever had with anybody involved with the School, I have come away a better person. Every time I listen to Vance Wilson or a member of the faculty or staff or the Governing Board, I come away a smarter person. And it never ceases; it’s a constant exercise in improvement that the boys can’t help but benefit from.
To be in this environment of people who are trying to do the right thing and the best thing for the students and the rest of the community is invigorating. Next to my family, my involvement with St. Albans is absolutely the most fulfilling thing I do. I’m pleased and excited that my whole family, and especially my son, will get to experience all of this, too.