The Hewitt School mourns with deep sadness the passing of Linda MacMurray Gibbs, who served as Hewitt’s sixth head of school from 2000 to 2010. Linda believed wholeheartedly in the power of education, and her visionary leadership of independent schools made a lasting impact on the many faculty, administrators, and staff she mentored and the countless students she taught.
Since the news of Linda’s passing on March 19, notes from both within and beyond the Hewitt community have been pouring in, with many writers recalling Linda’s steadfast belief in them, or a kindness she showed to them. I was the beneficiary of both. Linda was one of the first people to congratulate me when I was appointed the eighth head of school at Hewitt. Since that time, Linda and I have shared many wonderful hours together, whether in my office, or over the phone, or walking outdoors side-by-side between sessions at an education conference.
The last image -- of us walking side-by-side -- was a source of great amusement for our educator colleagues, as Linda was famously petite, and I am tall. Yet it was not only our height differences that made us an unlikely pair. Linda was born in the 1940s in the south, and she graduated from and built a career in private girls’ schools; I was born in the 1970s in the north, and I attended public school and built a career in higher education prior to leading Hewitt. In spite of our many differences, Linda and I bonded over our shared love of and belief in Hewitt and its transformative impact on girls and young women.
Another bond Linda and I shared was our appreciation for the works of the Irish poet, playwright, and essayist William Butler Yeats. Recalling our numerous conversations and rereading our written correspondence, I am struck by how often our exchanges featured references to the Irish bard. Linda especially loved Yeats’s line, “Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire,” an inspiring quotation befitting a Hewitt education, even if Yeats scholars cannot agree about whether or not Yeats actually wrote the famous line. To pay homage to Linda’s legacy of leadership at Hewitt and beyond, I share three lines from her beloved Yeats.
- “Do not wait to strike till the iron is hot; but make it hot by striking.”
Linda was often described as “small in stature, but larger than life,” and a “force of nature.” Linda got things done. Holding herself and others to the highest standards of performance, Linda was often heard saying, “Nothing great was ever accomplished without enthusiasm.” You always knew where Linda stood on an issue, and many appreciated her boldness and directness. With an infectious enthusiasm, she was known for taking the time to celebrate successes big and small. Linda was constantly in motion and looking to make things happen. Never backing down from a challenge, Linda looked to solve problems without delay or hesitation. She was a catalyst for change.
- “Happiness is neither virtue nor pleasure nor this thing nor that but simply growth. We are happy when we are growing.”
Linda was a leader who understood that joy and growth are inextricably woven. During her headship, Hewitt grew in so many fundamental ways. She launched Hewitt’s first significant capital campaign, “Hewitt On the Move.” She grew our physical footprint by adding McKelvey Hall to Hewitt’s campus. She quadrupled our endowment and grew our enrollment from approximately 390 students to over 500 students. She built a joyous sense of school pride through introducing or reinvigorating Hewitt traditions that exist today--including our school song, Blue-White competition, Harriet the Hawk, holding special concerts and assemblies in Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church, and senior independent projects. The seeds Linda planted grew into mighty oak trees that stand today.
- “Think where [woman's] glory most begins and ends,
And say my glory was I had such friends."
I like to think of the wry smile Linda would have given me when she discovered the liberty I took in changing Yeats’ “man’s glory” to “woman’s glory.” Linda had so many friends, at Hewitt and beyond. “Linda is the reason why I am a head of school today,” one well-known head of school wrote to tell me. Another head of school wrote: “I feel so honored to have known her. She touched so many, including me!” And the list goes on and on. Linda cared deeply about everyone at Hewitt; her students, their families, faculty and staff, and trustees. And in the days leading up to her death, Linda received a tremendous number of notes from former students, colleagues, mentees, and friends. This was because she created a sense of community wherever she went. At the end of the day, may we all be surrounded with the love of friends as Linda was at the end of her life.
Just a few days before her death, Linda experienced a surge of energy as she watched the video of the most recent recording of “At Hewitt,” played at our Centennial Benefit this spring. I like to think that Linda experienced just a bit of the energy she herself put into this school, which includes her decision to commission Hewitt music teacher Kirsten Lindberg to compose a new school song. Each time we sing “At Hewitt,” let us reflect on the way in which Linda Gibbs’s legacy lives on. The Hewitt School is stronger because of Linda’s leadership, and our lives and friendships are enriched by her lessons. She will be missed terribly, but her legacy at Hewitt will live on.