Paul Hurd’s Legacy Reminds Us That, At Private Schools, Teachers Matter

| January 15, 2014

This past November Hyde School in Bath, Maine lost a lifetime community member when Paul Hurd died. While having been a citizen on Hyde’s bath campus for almost forty years defines him as a boarding school lifer/campus fixture, Hurd was even more deeply woven into Hyde’s fabric.

Among, Hurd’s Hyde firsts — he was the first student interviewed as Hyde opened it’s doors; he scored the football team’s first touchdown; he was member of Hyde’s first graduating class. Hurd was also the first graduate to return as teacher.

I want do more than recount Mr. Hurd’s life and contributions in this short piece. It seems to me that Hurd found some very important ideals and lessons through life at Hyde. So important, in fact, that, as an adult, he dedicated himself to to sharing, teaching, and imparting the lessons and ideals that so powerfully helped him shape his life.

I don’t have a connection to Mr. Hurd so I contacted the closest source to Mr. Hurd in the Hyde community that I could find, Hyde School president, Malcolm Gauld. Mr. Gauld was kind enough to talk with me about the ideas and experiences that Mr. Hurd found at Hyde- ideas great enough to shape and drive a life dedicated to generations of students.

What did Mr. Hurd see as the primary value/most important piece of the Hyde experience? What did Hurd learn at Hyde that is so valuable that dedicated his life to making sure that it was available to subsequent student generations?

Hyde’s founding premise graces the entrance way at each of our campuses: “Every individual is gifted with a unique potential that defines a destiny.” – Joseph Gauld, 1966

Paul’s genius as a teacher had much to do with both his profound commitment to and unparalleled understanding of the depth and nuances of that statement.

Unlike many teachers, Paul’s focus was not on his relationship with a given student. (In fact, I think he felt that the personal relationship can sometimes actually serve to get in the way of great teaching!)
Rather, Paul was fully preoccupied with that student’s unique potential.

He always seemed to be asking, “What does this kid’s personal best look like? How can I get him or her to better on it?”
One alumnus, today a middle-aged man, could have been speaking for hundreds of fellow Hyde alums when he wrote, “One of the things that endeared people to Paul was the fact that he tended to have more confidence in the abilities of others than they possessed about themselves.”

Truth be told, this quality did not always “endear” people to Paul – sometimes it exasperated them! – but it indeed caused Paul to be respected and loved by former students (and colleagues) years later. The huge audience at his memorial service, probably the largest crowd to ever attend any Hyde event in our history, is a testament to that fact.

Hurd must have found the ideals that he referenced in his application essay...?

Paul Hurd Admission Application Essay - 1966

I feel that perhaps the greatest obligation man has during his life upon this earth is that of understanding and knowing himself. It is certainly a hard obligation to meet and it is all too easily overlooked; I cannot pretend to say that this duty can be accomplished in one year or even one lifetime. But man’s struggle to realize his individual and collective potential must go on if the human race’s supremacy is expected to persist in this world.

Therefore, I must say that the idea of learning more about myself as an individual and in relation to others is foremost in my mind as I apply for admission to Hyde. I hope that the school will be able to lend me not only new respect for my own abilities, but new respect for the abilities of others.

The student’s obligation to his school is a rather hard thing to define. In my case, however, I feel it would be my duty to try to completely devote myself to the ideals which the school sets for its students, and to try to emulate those ideals throughout life.

Another Hyde saying: The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

Paul’s mother and father set the bar high in how they lived their own lives and in terms of their expectations of their son. Suffice it to say that “character was king” in the home of his youth.

Furthermore, Paul comes by his teaching acumen naturally as his mother, Claire Hurd, has long been respected in midcoast Maine as representing the gold standard in teaching. (I can attest to this personally given the inspiring work she has done with my own son, a young man on the autism spectrum.)

Share a story about how Mr. Hurd communicated/shared the power of the Hyde experience with students. A daily example?

Also somewhere on the wall at each Hyde School is a rather frank quote: “The truth will set you free, but first it will make you miserable.”

To countless Hyde students, Paul has symbolized that force at Hyde that seemed to be hired for the sole purpose of inducing or evoking the “miserable” part of the equation. While his students are in a much better position than I am to offer stories, I have always gotten a kick out of the frequently recurring scene of what would happen when Hyde alums would return to visit after being away for a few years.

They would catch a glimpse of Paul walking toward them and would then start looking for a room or hallway to duck into. Then, much to their surprise, Paul would put out his hand, flash a big smile, welcome them back to school, and then offer to: share a cup of coffee, go spectate together at a Hyde athletic contest, catch some dinner, go surfing, etc.

The alum would be floored by his sincerity and genuine concern. It was as though they would realize at that moment that they had indeed been set free.

Why is a teacher like Paul Hurd so important to campus?

My philosophy of education might be best captured in two quotes:

“When we do the right thing, we raise ourselves in our own eyes.” – Eugene Delacroix (19th century French painter)

“ Our chief want in life is someone who will make us do what we can.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Paul was one of those rare teachers who could definitely check both boxes. He helped countless kids raise themselves in their own eyes. (Note: He was never about getting kids to compete with each other. He was all about challenging them to commit to their respective personal bests.)

He also made countless kids do what they can. We don’t always love those kinds of teachers or mentors when they are in our midst, but they invariably become very wise with each passing year. That was Paul.

How will Hurd's legacy stay alive in the faculty?

At this very moment, there are many, many faculty members at Hyde’s various schools who are striving to live up to Paul’s legacy. There are also scores of heartbroken students who are demanding of their teachers what Paul demanded of them: their best.

While Paul’s contributions will undoubtedly be deservedly memorialized at Hyde in some conventional way – e.g., a building, a scholarship fund, a faculty endowment, etc. – I have no doubt that if he were standing over our shoulders at this very moment, he would be whispering in our collective ears,
“Don’t forget, it’s all about the teaching… It’s all about the kids.”
That whisper, carried on from generation to generation of Hyde teachers and learners, will be his legacy. While he could often be self-deprecating. He’d like that… a lot.