Reprinted from yesterday's late editions.
The headmaster said goodbye to his school, but the Quaker style rarely errs on the side of gaud and yesterday brought no idle fanfares.
Robert L. Smith, who has had the care of the Sidwell Friends School for 13 years, the respected rock amid the commercial sloughs of Wisconsin Avenue, wished everyone godspeed.
At 11 sharp on Sunday, with the mockingbirds still celebrating sunrise (as at midnight they are still announcing sunset), the headmaster walked into the plain room where the Friends hold Meeting - benches in a square with a centerpiece of the wornest rug in Washington, and a little table with some irises in a bowl.
You would wait a long time for the Couperin and trumpets to star up - like forever - and for quite a spell nothing at all happened, except the Friends and the schoolboys and girls and their parents and their friends sat, often with closed eyes.
Elected silence (as the poet said) sang to them and sufficed them, and outside some rambunctious youngsters romped and hollered, as is fit, and a few sirens went by on the main artery, and the mockingbirds got their second wind and Vera Dickey went out and clucked moderately at the wild Indians and a plane went over.
The faces of the Friends registered no distraction, and silence continued for 15 minutes, a psychological hour.
The headmaster, moved by the Sprit, was first to speak.
We are surrounded in this room, he said, by books, and friends, and outside the support of nature at her most smiling and beautiful, and the world itself . . .
But at last we make the decisions, the ones most critical to us, alone. As if there were not all that - and some of it so beautiful, some so brutal - around us.
And a man then has to be (he went on) within himself his own hiding place from the wind and a covert from the tempest.
He sat down. Silence. At rare intervals someone rose to speak. A youth thanked the school for adding to his "list of ambiguities" while giving him resources to manage those new tensions.
After an hour everybody got up and walked out and thus ended the ceremony that moved some to tears.
"In the Navy," said Rear Adm. David F. Welch, "you learn by seeing what not to do. Some cluck does something and you learn from it what to avoid.
"It's very different with this headmaster here. He is a model that can be followed. Do it like him and you do it right."
A parent said, "I guess he's an anachronism. There are some presidential scholars here now, more National Merit finalists, it's a stronger school than it ever was before he came, and the winds are freer than they were, but he doesn't seem to care at all about glittering society or any of that. Just his school."
He said a while back he would leave because he thought he had been there long enough. His board wanted him to stay on, and he stayed an extra year or two, but he made his decision stick.
"It's curious," said one of his assistants. "At first, I thought he was leaving me alone to do what I wanted to do, but it gradually dawned on me that he had decided what I should do, and then let me discover it as my idea when it was really his all along.
"Everybody will tell you - you're probably tired of hearing it by now - how kind and caring and all that, but don't think he can't run things.
"I once heard him say, when somebody proposed something he was utterly opposed to:
"I don't know that that thought (your suggestion) would ever have occurred to me."
"That meant tell NO."
The admiral said he was once at a board meeting and somebody spoke of the "common sense" approach to some thorny issue.
"The headmaster said, 'I'm not sure I have much faith in common sense. Common sense tells us the earth is flat.'"
In the afternoon, 800 people turned out to say goodbye, and "extended remarks" were offered, and Smith said he understood it was his duty to allow people to express their admiration and all that.
Smith has brought the school to much closer (however unofficial) ties with Quakerism. The school has long been one of the most fashionable in the capital with plenty of official families represented, and a good many "sound American families," as the old code phrase for upper classes used to put it.
But Smith has emphasized the Quaker virtues of silence, modesty, honesty, plainness and freedom from general bull.
He was a combat infantryman in the Battle of the Bulge, and for a birth-right Quaker of an old Quaker family, it was comparable to a Frenchman becoming an aborigine.
"I say it with sorrow, as a Quaker," he said. "But since I felt as I did about Hitler, I thought it would be more immoral for me to be a conscientious objector - that would be more immoral than anything I could possibly do as a soldier."
At the time he was in his first year at Harvard College.
"I learned something.I learned things don't very often go right - not as you would like them to go. And I learned there is such a thing as luck."
And he learned, you can easily gather, what it is to be alone.
"The Society of Friends wrote me, kept up with me," and that was a comfort, and seemed to understand, that for himself he had to make a decision different from theirs.
"When you quoted Isaish," someone asked him, "did you mean - the safe place from the storms - that is what religion is or God is, or did you mean that's what a noble institution can do for a man or just what?"
"I mean it's what a man has to be Himself."
He had signed off in Meeting, before the closing silence:
"As rivers of water in a dry place. As the shadow of a great rock in a weary land." No trumpets. A few tears.