Amherst Magazine

Henry B. Poor '39

Henry B. Poor '39 died September 27, 2009.
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Henry B. Poor
1917 – 2009


My dad was born on December 31, 1917, (he always felt that birth date cheated him of presents) in Passaic, N.J. He was the third of four with two older brothers and a much younger sister. Being the youngest of three brothers imbued him with a competitive spirit that was evident in many facets of his entire life.

When it came time to follow his brothers to Deerfield Academy, Henry’s father wrote Frank Boyden, Deerfield’s headmaster, to say that his business was failing and that it would not be possible to send Henry. Mr. Boyden wrote back, “Send him anyway,” and there followed a life-long devotion to Deerfield.

Dad again followed his brothers to Amherst and the Psi Upsilon fraternity where he filled several positions including President. He also continued his squash prowess, playing #1 and chosen as captain his senior year. Although he was not able to play often following college, his love for the game and the people remained a strong interest. Perhaps his greatest disappointment at Amherst was his failure to make the Glee Club – he served as manager to at least be part of the organization. Some say he tried to atone for this failure by singing loudly enough in church to draw attention and invitations to join the choir. He declined just as he declined whispered entreaties from his family to tone it down.

After college he joined Bankers Trust in New York as a trainee and moved with his new wife, Tink ( Mt. Holyoke ’39) to the city. That move was short-lived due to a call he received from Mr. Boyden, “Henry, I need you.” When Tink asked him what his duties would be, where they would live, how much he would be paid, etc., he replied, “I don’t know, but Mr. Boyden needs me.” And at that point he began his career as an educator.

Dad served as Assistant to the Headmaster until 1951 when, like so many Deerfield trained masters before and after him, he left to become headmaster of his own school. Fountain Valley in Colorado Springs was a liberal western secondary school to which Dad brought many of the Deerfield ways. His family of four children was young enough to absorb the dramatic culture change with only a few bumps. During his seven year tenure, he would say that his most lasting contribution was the initiation of a chapel, built by the students themselves.

There followed two years in Amherst’s Development Office, then a new headmastership at Montclair Academy in New Jersey. During his six years there, he led the campaign for a new campus which led to a renaissance of the school. I mentioned that he was competitive. I remember those Montclair days when he would come home late at night and say, “Shall we go downstairs?” Downstairs was a ping pong (always table tennis to him) table. During our five game epics, the most extreme word I heard from him was “Damn.” My own profanity (uttered under my breath because, after all, he was my dad)
was much more colorful.

In the late ‘60’s he moved to the Philadelphia area and joined the Development Office of the Episcopal Academy where I was a young teacher. Needing a place to live, he moved in with me in a garage apartment on campus. Now, as a young single male near Bryn Mawr College for Women, having your dad live with you – let’s just say our interests were a bit different. However, we agreed that I would cook and he would wash all dishes, so we had lots of hamburger and chicken dinners with all the pots and pans I could use.

Thankfully, after six months, he married Mary Kellar, acquired five stepchildren and moved into his own house. He also began working with the Psi Upsilon national fraternity, an association he continued for the rest of his life. He believed strongly in the positive values a fraternity experience could provide college students and spent countless hours in various chapters, with alumni associations and in negotiations for new chapters. He served 14 years as Executive Director, then as Director of the Ambassador Program while remaining on the Board. He was also active in the Fraternity Executives Association, the Amherst chapter of Psi Upsilon, the Council for Spiritual and Ethical Education, Rotary and especially St. David’s Episcopal Church.

My dad’s major problem was time. As a perfectionist he was reluctant to complete any task, send a letter or finish any document unless it was just right. This character trait pushed him up against many deadlines. Some deadlines were flexible, others were not. In the latter category was the IRS. Dad and I were members of our own club where you were in good standing if you postmarked your return on April 15, you became an officer with a postmark between 6-11 PM and President between 11-midnight. Dad was consistently President until I expelled him for taking extensions.

As he aged, he became increasingly attached to the church and his religion. The major impetus for his belief was my older sister Judy who was born and remained handicapped for her life of 54 years. Unable to participate significantly in the outside world, she had a penetrating belief in God and the after life. Through St. David’s Dad was active in the homeless outreach, prison ministry, foreign missions and many other aspects of the Church. Mary was just as involved, if not more so, teaching Sunday school and volunteering for many other activities. Her death in 2008 after 41 years of marriage was a great loss.

After Dad was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, my two sisters and I spent more time with him at his home and the hospital. I was able to handle much of his finances and other issues as he declined and was with him for his last two weeks. On that September Sunday afternoon when his breathing became more labored, I held his hand and said, “It’s OK Dad, I’ll take care of things here. You go on ahead.”
    
And, soon after, he did.

Thomas M. Poor ’65

 

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