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One Woman's Opinion

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Reunion: EHS Class of ’57

by Mary Wakefield Buxton

Urbanna, Va.—My husband graduated from Episcopal High School in Alexandria in 1957 and I suppose it was feminism that caused me over the years to rag various headmasters of this fine prep school as to when they were going to accept girls.

How irritating this must have been, but then Headmaster Hoxton would always politely grin and bear me. Once I accosted the poor fellow at a reception and demanded to know why I should send my 14-year-old son to his “all-male school?” This said as if such entity was nothing but a bagful of snakes.

“To get him away from you, my dear lady,” Hoxton answered. I laughed. I always thought that exquisite bon mot was a bit of humor on the road to Damascus.

Headmaster Shep Ainsley replaced Hoxton. “When are you going to accept girls?” I asked Headmaster Ainsley. He sighed and said, “I feel what you’re saying in my head, Mary,” as he pointed to his brain. Then, moving his hand to his chest, he added, “But not in my heart.”

I reminded the good man that prep schools in the north had been coed for some 20 years. EHS eventually gave into the trend and admitted girls in 1992.

I thought of these earlier conversations when the class of ’57 celebrated its 55th reunion this summer. Headmaster Rob Hershey told us the school had just celebrated its 20th anniversary of admission of girls. 

It was nice to see fellow alumni but, sadly, some classmates had passed away. I always marvel at reunions how years melt away and we so quickly become teenagers again, full of laughter and fun . . . the very best medicine life can offer.

The first step was to check into Anderson Hall and then head to the gift store to purchase a replacement for the worn out black and maroon striped school tie. We ignored the classy, new, expensive designer ties and stuck to the same old classic model. One can always count on a Virginia lawyer to shun anything upscale.

We headed to old sights from yesteryear: Bryant Hall, the new chapel, Ainslie Art Center, “The Cage,” the new science building, and Headmaster’s office (Urbanna alumni Bob Montague’s vintage convertible was parked in the circle) and, lucky me, I got to hear the same old “war stories,” all the while smiling like good wives always do that have been married 49 years to the dear Old Boy. Finally we were off to the Headmaster’s reception on the front lawn where we met up with returning classmates and families.

Soon we were off to dinner at Le Bourgerie in Old Town with classmate Chip and Emily Woodrum of Roanoke and others with much conversation and laughter. Wardrobe rules reigned and we stayed off politics. 

The miracle of the day was that we actually managed to sleep that night in the dorm. It was so quiet not even a mouse stirred. We are at the age where we always mention the quality of sleep.
And food. The next morning the school had a super breakfast waiting for us at the dining hall . . . scrambled eggs, pancakes, sausage and bacon. We met a grad from Arizona and his wife back for his 50th, which led to talk of alumni Senator John McCain.

My husband recalled how McCain had knocked him out cold in a boxing match at “the Cage” some 60 years ago. “McCain was a tough fighter, an Admiral’s son and no match for a gentle doctor’s son from Newport News” he said. McCain’s innate tenacity later helped him endure many years as a POW after he was shot down over Vietnam. 

Headmaster Rob Hershey discussed changes at the school. Tuition had risen considerably over the years but there had still been over 500 applicants for 100 places last year. The big news was EHS leads Woodberry Forest in football wins, 26-25.

That night we met for a reception and class dinner in the dining room. By then we were feeling pretty good. Some of us got out on the floor and danced to music that my husband declared was “undanceable.” I guess dance styles have changed since the 50s? We danced the jitterbug anyway.

We did not fare so well Saturday night in the dorm. The mice were up and roaring. We should have been suspicious when all the returning young singles gathered in the Commons before the school party to have their own private party. It was still going on at 3:30 a.m.

For the 60th reunion in 2017 we’ll head for the Hilton, like the rest of the dear Old Boys, for what we all want more than a good time . . . a good night’s sleep. 


posted 09.19.2012

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