Deceased January 31, 2018

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In Memory

Harold is best remembered for his smile—joyful and spontaneous. It was probably why Dean Eugene Wilson chose him for the class of ’57—one of two black freshmen and one of eight black undergraduates.

Harold’s father, a Pullman porter, died when Harold was 10. That same year Harold’s grade school teacher, Nora Drew Gregory—the sister of Dr. Charles Drew (Amherst ’26 and in whose honor the former Phi Psi house was renamed)—told Harold to plan on attending Amherst. And he did.

He came to Amherst from Dunbar High School in Washington, D.C. Its faculty was outstanding—80 percent of graduates went on to college—and Harold was class valedictorian.

Harold joined Phi Alpha Psi. Through him many of his fraternity brothers gained their first insights into the black experience in America. He did this with compassion and, often, forgiveness. He graduated cum laude in Greek and Latin. 

As a Woodrow Wilson Fellow at Harvard, he earned a master’s in classics and education and a doctorate in education policy and management. The rest of his life was spent helping young people—particularly the marginalized—realize their full potential. A teacher and educator, he worked with foundations, private schools, education systems and community colleges on both coasts and in the U.S. Virgin Islands, where for eight years he was commissioner of education. In retirement he organized a free after-school arts program for over 50,000 lower income Los Angeles students. And he was honored as a Purpose Prize fellow—“a kind of MacArthur genius award for retirees.”

Harold married Shirlee Taylor, Wellesley ’59—Harold’s equal in every way. She was an author (including “The Sweeter the Juice,” a New York Times Notable Book of the Year), a teacher and an arts administrator. Daughters Deirdre and Melissa sadly chose Yale.

In our 50th reunion book Harold wrote, “At some future time I will think seriously about retiring. But not today, not this week, not this month. I have too much yet to do. And so does America.”

Harold died of heart failure, in his sleep, on Jan. 31, 2018. He was 82.

John Thompson ’57
Tom Herzog ’57