Last Thursday after our alumni reception in New York, a group of us were left in the room as a fire truck, lights flashing on 48th Street and Lexington, arrived to extract our Director of the SMUS Global Fund, Shara Campsall, from the elevator where she was stranded, the cable having malfunctioned, dropping the car from the 22nd to the 14th floor. Our spacious reception room had mainly cleared, but six or seven alums remained, waiting in suspense to make sure Shara was okay. In the meantime, some stories circulated of past receptions. Several of those left were faithful attendees over the years, especially two Dougs: Doug Easdon and Doug Freeman.
The two Dougs and I have all acquired puppies in the last few months, and the sharing of puppy pics and little videos bore an eerie resemblance to proud grandparents showing off new grandbabies. We committed to a Facebook page for SMUS puppies. That conversation over, for the next five minutes we listened to Doug Freeman, a member of the Democratic National Committee, dissect how the next year or so of the current U.S. President’s administration was likely to unfold: we heard insights not available to the general public. Shara still lying in shock and fear in the elevator, Doug Easdon then recalled the visit Joan and I made to New York in early October 2001.
Three weeks before this 2001 reception, terrorists had flown planes into the World Trade Centre. About two weeks after that event, I emailed Doug Easdon to ask how everyone was doing, was it still a good idea for us to come to New York for our reception? An immediate “yes” appeared in my inbox: “We would LOVE to see you, it would be like an emotional care package from home.” We met in the Algonquin Hotel, a storied venue. The hotel is famous enough that it is never not busy, any time of the day. This particular evening it was empty, and we were overrun with attention from the wait staff. Several students from New York University – not far from the World Trade Centre – were among the attendees; two of them had witnessed the second plane hit the second tower. Everyone knew friends or family who had died. Renée Duggan, who now keeps in touch with the school from Abu Dhabi, appeared late, straight from a memorial service. More people arrived. The crowd never swelled to the size we sometimes get, and even though the tone was subdued, no one wanted to leave. Everyone present tonight in 2017 who had also been present in 2001 had a crystal clear image of the evening, and still, after 16 years, were grateful Joan and I came to New York.
When Shara appeared a minute later, the cheers that greeted her safe appearance were fortified with this residue of attachment and affection left over from the memory of 2001. She was barely damaged, but very shaken, and we retired downstairs to hear the full version and make sure she got over the shock.
The next morning, we were off to Washington, where Tony Quainton, class of 1942 and former Director General of the U.S. Foreign Service under President Bill Clinton, hosted a lunch for alumni, as he has done for years. Shara’s adventure took on more life as the tale was repeated among these very accomplished men and women. In the middle of lunch I received an email from Paul Leslie, our Director of Admissions and Engagement, telling me we had just enrolled a girl from Annapolis, Maryland, 32 miles away; a new American friend. Tony Quainton, an alum so many decades removed from our new boarder, immediately asked for her contact information to get in touch.
I arrived home from my travels on Wednesday of this week just in time to attend our annual Board Dinner that honours our staff. The President of our American Foundation, John Herpers, was in attendance. He supports students to attend our school from St. Andrew’s Nativity School, in Portland, Oregon. Later in May, I will visit Bill Monkman, the major donor of our Athletic Complex. Our American friends appreciate their special Canadian connection, more than I can convey. For me and Joan, getting to know them has been one of the highlights of our tenure at SMUS. Vivat.