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Holderness News

A Humble Servant

Suzanne Dewey
Tom Phillips ‘75 has enjoyed a forty-year relationship with Holderness. He first stepped on campus as a middle-school youngster from Bedford, NY conducting a prep school tour. He saw five or six other schools, mostly in the Lakes Region, and when he visited the Holderness campus, he knew Holderness was the school for him.
He is firm in relating that he didn’t try to influence his two sons (Cole ‘11 and Garrett ‘14) to come to Holderness. “I went to the occasional alumni event when the kids were growing up but I didn’t want them to choose a predetermined place, I wanted them to choose what was right for them.” Tom adds that his older son, Cole, as a 9th-grader, “enjoyed skiing at Killington and looked at a bunch of other schools before he saw Holderness. When Cole came to Holderness to visit, he knew it was the right school for him.” Garrett almost had no choice once the family committed to Holderness but that worked out well for him, as well.

Tom who is is completing his ninth year as a member of the Board of Trustees, recalls that he tried to wait until his sons were no longer students before he agreed to be on the Board. Head of School Phil Peck fondly considers Tom’s service. “We’ve been fortunate to have Tom’s guidance and good work on the Board. He is well-grounded on what makes Holderness the place that it is and he epitomizes service beyond self. Tom has been a guiding light on our advancement committee for the past several years during a pivotal time in the school’s history. He has been the steady hand helping Holderness raise our philanthropic profile.”

Tom doesn’t want kudos or recognition. He is quick and firm in stating that the school under Phil’s leadership and Board chairs such as Bob Hall, Jim Hamblin ‘77, and Will Prickett “81 deserve the credit for the school being where it is today. Tom is philosophical about the end of his third term as trustee: “You need fresh voices and perspectives on a Board. Everyone has an idea of how to help organizations and you need to have those changing ideas to invigorate thinking.” He adds, “Serving on the Board has been an enjoyment. No one is trying to change Holderness for the sake of change: there is a natural push/pull in every organization, but at Holderness, there is a voice that wants us to be true to our roots -- community and self-reliance.”

Tom served as chair of the advancement committee for the past several years. He shares “When you commit time to an organization, it is easy to see that everyone has their long suits. Everyone has a perspective. I wasn’t going to add much to the student life committee or be of much value in thinking about AP courses or the rigor of the academic program, but I am fairly adept at running businesses and understanding accountability. I happened to be the person in the role when the advancement efforts were going full-throttle.”

Tom continues “This is not about me! What this school is doing, what we have been focusing on with the Elevating Academics campaign, the Holderness Fund, and the like is about the school! This is mainly about creating opportunities for kids.” Tom considers his own background. His parents were divorced and distracted with their busy lives. “This isn’t a ‘poor Tom’ story. Not at all. It is about {then faculty member} Bill Biddle knowing my circumstances and finding a way for me to take a summer job at the Appalachian Club. He knew what I needed. He knew me! I want Holderness to maintain that steady ear for kids who need the same kind of thoughtful treatment. Holderness knows its kids, sees them as they are and guides them where they need it most.”

As Tom shares his story, it is easy to realize his service to Holderness comes from a deep commitment to a place that made a difference in his life. “I owe a lot of things to a lot of people. I am very thankful. And for my sons -- well, they had a very different experience at home and yet they also learned to be self-reliant and self-sufficient during their Holderness years.” Tom gives credit to his wife as well as the school.

Speaking specifically about the new academic building and the vision outlined in the Elevating Academics campaign, Tom says “Collective wisdom is a wonderful thing -- the building, our ultimate goal that we have outlined today was not the original vision. It has morphed and been considered by many, and added to and eventually becoming transformational at the exact time when we need it. Many people -- Rob Kinsley, Phil Peck, Tobi Pfenniger, Nigel and Nicole Furlonge, Randy Houseman --  all pushed for different ideas they thought were important for the best interest of school in the long term. The process was a forum where everybody added to the original ideas and that allowed for collective wisdom.”

Tom considers the building and the school’s mission as intertwined. “We are not competing with anyone except ourselves. We want to give every student the best opportunity. We won’t change the type of students we admit or alter our athletic program, but we do recognize that providing opportunities for kids to explore and learn requires flexible teaching and we don’t want to limit ourselves by restrictive spaces. We may not know who that kid is who will find their way to Holderness. There is a certain randomness to who will find value and learning from the job program, Out Back, or this kind of education but we want to be ready for them, to give time, effort, and to wave the flag. We want to be sure we are providing firm ground for kids to thrive.”

Tom takes the long view as he thinks about the state of the school’s philanthropy. “The success of the Holderness Fund led us to believe that we can do things on a bigger scale. It is not just big gifts but also individuals who contribute $18.79 on Day of Giving. Each effort, in Holderness fashion, makes the difference.”

In summary, Tom offers three final thoughts about Holderness and the role of philanthropy and Holderness’ distinctive value:
  1. Why you give is as important as what you give. -- some people like to empower the place that they attended. But rest assured, Holderness will live on forever. It is incredibly lean so every dollar goes to a pretty good place.
  2. Holderness maintains the ability to encourage kids to be less tech-dependent -- that is an asset difficult to measure and yet everyone is thankful.
  3. Holderness is a great place and it is safe in many ways. People don’t understand how safe it is. Safe to experience, safe to live,  safe to learn, and safe to walk around. Holderness allows people to be themselves.
We salute Tom as an example of service beyond self. It is through efforts such as his -- being firmly committed to keeping what is sacred about Holderness while helping to shape its future -- that allow us to hold firm ground for generations to come.

List of 3 news stories.

  • Emerald Pool Study

    The Emerald Pool Opens at the Edwards Art Gallery

    Andrew Herring
    Albert Bierstadt, the German-American painter renowned for his landscapes of the American West, came to the White Mountains to capture its simple yet overwhelming beauty. What came to life through nearly a decade’s worth of work was The Emerald Pool, a massive oil-on-canvas monument to the natural majesty of a hidden swimming hole along the Peabody River in the Pinkham Notch.  Recounting The Emerald Pool, Bierstadt said, “I never had so difficult a picture to paint, as this White Mountain subject the Emerald Pool; my artist friends think it my best picture and so do I.” 
    Read More
  • Being On Mission: Convocation 2019

    Phil Peck
    At Holderness we deliberately build community through the people we bring in and programs we support. Today I want to share one story about people who showed us what it means to be a mission-centered community and talk about one unique program that is hitting a milestone. 
    Read More
  • The Bulls are Back in Town! Holderness School Welcomes New Class of Students

    Andrew Herring
    Kicking off its 141st year, Holderness School welcomed new students to campus on September 5th.  Under blue skies and surrounded by the cheers of joyful Senior Leaders, 114 new students eagerly joined the Holderness School community.  The day was filled with smiles as new students and families unpacked their cars and turned dorm rooms into a home away from home.
    Read More
Holderness School
33 Chapel Lane, Holderness NH, 03245
mail P.O Box 1879 Plymouth, NH 03264-1879
phone (603) 536-1257