Inaugurating the Founders Key Award

Posted by David Brown - 28 September, 2018

mshughes 02 002 - Copy2In her long career at Randolph, Mary Shepard Hughes created a profound and long-lasting legacy. She will be honored and recognized at a reception on Saturday, October 27, from 5:00 to 6:30 PM, in the Thurber Arts Center Lobby.


The day before Randolph School first opened, in the fall of 1959, Board of Trustees President Sharon Rhett presented each of the other trustees with sterling silver keychains, engraved with the date and the School’s name, and with notes reading, “Something to remind you of this happy day and bring you good luck in the years ahead.” In the spirit of those gifts, the School and its Alumni Association have created this year a Founders Key award to honor the legacy of the most influential Randolph community members of the past, those who have done the most to keep its mission alive and thriving.

The award’s first nominee and recipient is Mary Shepard Hughes. The letter informing her of the award reads, in part:

While at Randolph, your torch helped light the way for many and your legacy continues to impact our community. We are genuinely grateful for your many contributions and want you to know how meaningful you are to all of us at Randolph.

Although her career at Randolph would ultimately span more than 30 years, Mary Shepard began her time here in the early 1970s as a middle school math teacher and chair of the math department. In the latter years of her career, she was named Assistant Head of School and Dean of Studies, overseeing hiring, curriculum, and faculty development for the entire school.

Her successor as Middle School Head, Polly Robb, who remained in the role until her retirement in 2015, remembers:

Soon after I was hired as a part-time math teacher in 1996, I began to marvel at how adeptly Mary Shepard executed the demanding work required of her as Head of the Middle School. She handled tough situations and critical tasks with good humor and an incredible amount of energy. I remember telling her I never wanted her job. Of course, I learned, not long afterward, to never say never.

"Her intellect, passion for excellence, and fearless, enthusiastic vision for Randolph were already legendary at the School when I arrived."

I know I never really filled Mary Shepard’s shoes as her successor. Her intellect, passion for excellence, and fearless, enthusiastic vision for Randolph were already legendary at the School when I arrived. She was an extraordinary administrator with a remarkable ability to quickly sift through problems and find solutions, often before most of us had even digested the full scope of the issue at hand. Moreover, she modeled a relentless work ethic, always focused on creating opportunities for learning.

Those of us who had the incredible privilege to work with Mary Shepard know a person wholly committed to sustaining Randolph’s future. She understands that children thrive in a challenging and supportive academic environment, but that cannot happen without great teachers. Of all the lessons I learned from Mary Shepard, maybe the most important for my work as Head of the Middle School was to be fully dedicated to supporting the great teachers who serve the children and parents under our care.

Mary Shepard founded the Middle School at Randolph, knowing that young adolescents need teachers dedicated to their specific needs and a curriculum to engage their interests. She also initiated the Honor Council in the Upper School and helped establish the honor societies.

But her legacy at Randolph goes beyond the many initiatives she led. She gave so much of herself to each and every person she served at the School. By listening intently, advising respectfully, and in sharing her wit and wisdom, Mary Shepard simply formed people. I count her as my greatest mentor. Mary Shepard’s influence on me is ever-present, and I am so very grateful.

There will be a reception honoring Mary Shepard Hughes, open to all friends, former students, and former colleagues, in the Thurber Arts Center Lobby, on Saturday, October 27, 5-6:30 PM.

Topics: Middle School, Polly Robb, teachers, traditions, People, founders, Student-centered, Randolph alumni, student support, difference maker

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