Q: It seems that the Stewart-Rathburn family has been around Holy Innocents’ for many years. Can you provide us a timeline?
A: As with much of my life, there is a story to tell. I joined HIEC and was confirmed in 1988 and became familiar with the school when I met Meg Frederick, then head of the Preschool, in our practice at about the same time. In 1990, when Tyler was four years old, Missy and I made the decision that this was the type of environment and Meg and her team were the type of people we wanted to educate and nurture our son. Alexis was enrolled seven years later after a stellar interview.
Both children, although unique in their own ways, thrived at HIES. During Middle School, John Harman, a Middle School Principal, took an interest in Tyler and began to “coach him up” in life skills. He learned that if you wanted something, you had to work for it and if you needed help, there was a proper way to ask. Our somewhat shy adolescent developed into a leader in his class and in the Upper School. Alexis quickly broke out of Tyler’s shadow and became a scholar and leader as well. Each eventually enrolled at the University of Virginia. Tyler majored in History and Religious Studies and Alexis received a degree in Systems Engineering. Thanks to HIES, both were extremely well prepared for their academic careers.
During Alexis’s high school years, Missy served on the Board and also chaired the Development Committee. It was during this period of the global economic collapse that Alumni Hall was acquired and renovated and the plans were set for the STEM Building under Michele Duncan’s leadership.
Alexis graduated in 2012. There were tearful hugs, good-byes and “we’re going to miss you’s.” It was in October, as empty-nesters, that we realized that we missed HIES too. We went back as “parents of alumni” and made a gift to the One School Campaign as an expression of gratitude for what the school had done for our children.
A year later, I was invited to join the board and served on the Facilities Committee as the STEM building was coming out of the ground. It was exciting to see what our community could achieve as it came together with generosity aided by a recovering economy.
Not long into my board tenure, I was invited to dinner with Paul Barton and Bruce Ford, then Chair of the Board. As I left home, Missy warned me, “they’re going to ask you to chair a committee, that’s how these things work.” I returned how a few hours later to see her in the same chair. “Well, was I right?” I nodded affirmatively. “Which one?”, she asked. Still numb from the invitation I responded, “all of them!” And so it began.
Bruce became my mentor and friend. I served for a year as Vice Chair. Early on, he admitted that when he became Chairman, “I had no idea what I was doing.” From that point, I knew I could duplicate his service.
Seriously, I owe Bruce and Paul a huge debt of gratitude. With their encouragement and mentoring, my service on the board added a depth of purpose to my life that I otherwise would not have experienced.
Q: Seven years on the board is a long tenure. What do you feel are the most meaningful changes at the school in that time?
A: It’s not hard to find bright spots. First of all, Paul Barton arrived as I joined the board. His vision, energy and leadership have been transformational. I have often said, “we are not today what we were ten years ago and we’ll not be in ten years what we are today.” There have been many improvements to the leadership team, faculty and business practices that put us in the strongest position in the history of the school. The collaborative leadership between The Rev. Dr. Bill Murray of the church, Paul and the board have given us new bylaws which allowed us the assemble our strongest board ever. Thoughtful leaders from the church and school crafted the document which will benefit both institutions for decades.
You can’t look back without acknowledging the shadow of the pandemic. Only a year into Our Time, in-person learning was shut down and the campaign was forced to pause, but our vision was not lost. We had already received generous support from many supporters of the school and had achieved momentum supporting the construction of the Humanities Building.
Lead by the strong urging of Neil Pruitt, treasurer, and persistent optimism of Mike McMillen, trustee, the board voted to move ahead with construction when much of the world stood still. This was the best decision we could have made. The building will be finished this summer and the Lower School will be built in the next year. Both projects are critical to fulfilling the mission of providing world-class facilities for our learners and teachers.
Q: Thanks for the look-back, now let’s pivot to the future. What do you see on the horizon for HI as the construction dust settles?
A: It’s always more difficult to predict the future than analyze the past. None of us knows what opportunities or challenges lie ahead, but I am confident that HI will still be here and will be stronger in thirty years because of what we have done today. Remaining true to our Episcopal Identity and holding fast to those values will allow us to make decisions (some difficult, no doubt) to continue to serve our community.
Missy and I will continue to have a stake in HIES. Our granddaughter, Charlotte, has been assured an interview for admission to the primary school in the fall of 2024. We look forward to remaining active at the school and providing an “institutional memory” when helpful.