Rusty Allen & the Butterfly Effect

Posted by James Rainey - 14 December, 2017

Portraits - 5445345.jpgThe Christine Ray Richard Outstanding Service Award is given annually in honor of Christine Richard for her lifetime of devotion to Randolph School. The honoree is not an alumnus or student, but someone who, like Christine, spent 15 or more years in service of Randolph School. This year’s extraordinarily deserving recipient is Rusty Allen.

Rusty is a valued colleague, independent school leader, teacher, and coach. But first and foremost, he is a counselor. With a genuine interest in people and an unrivaled ability to assess the best interests of a young person and advise her or him toward them, Rusty invests himself in the lives of our students, their families, and their teachers. He is a leader of substantial and recognized reputation in the world of college counseling, and the work that he has done at Randolph has helped immeasurably to distinguish us as a place where – to repeat a phrase that was meaningful to my predecessor and remains meaningful to me – children, even our oldest children, are truly known, challenged, and loved.

Rusty Allen's Birthday - 5274138.jpgRusty is a graduate of Franklin and Marshall College who received his M.S. in biology from Shippensburg University. He began his career at St. James School in Maryland, where he served for 19 years as the Head of College Counseling, Science Department Head, and head coach of the boys varsity basketball and tennis teams. Prior to joining Randolph, Rusty served as Head of College Counseling at Savannah Country Day School for seven years, where he also taught biology and chemistry and even served as the varsity volleyball coach. Rusty was named coach of the year for three consecutive years in the early ’90s.

Richard Gehman, former Upper School Principal at Savannah Country Day School, who retired last year after 24 years as Headmaster of Oak Hall School in Gainesville, offered these reflections about Rusty when recommending him for employment at Randolph: “Perhaps the most important qualities Rusty has…are integrity, strength of character, and the courage of his convictions. Simply stated, if it isn’t honest, Rusty won’t support it.” Richard highlighted Rusty’s rapport with students and parents: “They like him, they respect him, and I know why. They sense his deep commitment to the school and the kids, they appreciate his compassion and understanding, and they trust his judgment.”

This sentiment was written in 1996, and now we have the benefit of 20 years of knowing and respecting Rusty at Randolph as he was known and respected in Savannah. We could say the very same things about Rusty today that were said in that letter of reference, which speaks so highly of the person that he is, the strength of his character, his love of and commitment to students, and the respect he commands from those who work with and know him.

Rusty and his wife, Betsy, joined the Randolph community in 1997, when Rusty took on the challenge of serving in a dual role as Head of Upper School and College Counselor. He skillfully balanced these two demanding roles as our school grew in anticipation of the Garth campus, and in 2008 Rusty became Randolph’s first full-time Director of College Counseling. 


Each year following our Junior-Parent College Night, parents marvel at the wealth of knowledge and wisdom that Rusty offers, and are so very grateful for the extensive program that is ours, beginning in a student’s ninth-grade year. Throughout a student’s Upper School experience, the college counseling office listens to, encourages, and challenges each student and family on an individual basis to find the optimal fit for the next phase of the student’s life.

Beyond his role as a mentor to students at Randolph, Rusty has quietly and selflessly mentored two outstanding first-time Upper School heads, Brent Bell and Ryan Liese, and two college counseling associates, Joe Freeman and Jessica Forinash. His love for the School and his desire to see young administrators grow and develop – so that they, too, can have maximum impact on the lives of young people – are admirable and humbling. Randolph School is a far better place for having been the beneficiary of Rusty Allen’s care and commitment for over 20 years.

Far beyond the walls of Randolph, Rusty is known and highly respected in the world of college counseling. He was honored in 2016 by the Southern Association for College Admission Counseling, or SACAC, with the Larry West Award, the highest award given by the Association, based on longevity of service and dedication to the work of the Association, outstanding contributions to the college admissions counseling profession, leadership within that profession, and dedication to students. Rusty was the first person in Alabama ever to receive this award.

Rusty-alumni.jpgAt the end of the day for Rusty, it is all about students. He loves them, enjoys them, understands them, and challenges them. He stays in touch with graduates long after they have left our halls, and on weeks like this one, when our alumni begin to make their way home for the holidays, you’ll regularly find them visiting with him in his office or gathering around him at our annual alumni holiday party. With a deep sense of gratitude and affection for a man who substantially impacted the course of their lives, alumni throughout the years hold Rusty in highest esteem.

A few of our alumni, when learning that Mr. Allen would receive this award, offered thoughts on what he has meant to them and their classmates at Randolph:

Brennen Byrne ’09

Mr. Allen was an incredible advocate for me. Any time I had an idea or wanted to try something new, he was willing to sit down with me and talk me through the steps to get it done. I always left his office feeling encouraged and empowered.


Caroline Wills Vergara ’06

The experience of being a student at Randolph is best described as being part of a community. Mr. Allen was at the center of that community. I always remember thinking, “Wow, he really believes in me.”



Mr. Allen believed in every student and challenged each of us to think bigger and do better. I can remember Mr. Allen stopping me in the hall my freshmen year to ask about my classes, saying, “I think you should consider an honors class….” Little did he know that was a terrifying thought for me….and again as a senior, “I think you should consider UGA or SMU.” He was right. I attended The University of Georgia which led me to a career I never thought possible. It all started with Mr. Allen ingraining in me: Think bigger, do better!


Carrie Daniel ’09

Mr. Allen has a remarkable gift for getting to know each student on a personal and individual level. Randolph students are fortunate to have a college counselor who cares so deeply about their individual successes and who works so hard to forge the best path for each student, no matter how different it might be.


Drew McDonald ’11

Mr. Allen famously preaches that choosing a college is “a match to be made, not a prize to be won.” His words have always been potent in an achievement-focused environment like Randolph's Upper School. But this piece of advice, to seek balance and meaning over rankings and box-checking, has guided a generation of young people not just toward their college years, but through them and beyond. Jobs, friendships, partnerships, and so many other decisions and aspects of life are without a doubt best approached as matches to be made. We can thank Mr. Allen for putting that bug in our ears.


Hayley Robb Brantley ’05

I was incredibly honored to get to know Mr. Allen / Rusty as both my head of upper school and my colleague. Whether I was an 18-year-old trying to navigate the college search process while also balancing school and social life or a brand-new teacher relearning the ropes at her alma mater, Rusty was a dependable, kind, and helpful role model for me—even when he practiced tough love :)



Rusty truly viewed all of us students as “his” kids. He celebrated with us in our high moments, comforted us in our low moments, and pushed us to be better versions of ourselves during our less-than-ideal moments. 





One of my favorite memories of Rusty came during my sophomore year in high school. My mom—another proponent of “tough love”— had for whatever reason decided that I needed to walk the three-quarters-of-a mile to a holiday break basketball practice. So, in my basketball shoes and warm-up pants and with my gym bag, I marched up Drake Avenue. I didn't hear the car pulling up behind me, but I did hear the all-too-familiar voice barking at me, “Child! get in the car!” Even though it was Christmas break, even though it was a Saturday and his kids were probably in town, and he had plenty of other things to do, Mr. Allen wasn't going to let one of “his” kids walk in the cold weather (even if her mom thought it was character-building!) That’s the kind of person he is and the kind of dedication he had and has to this place and its people. Congratulations, Rusty. I’m so honored to know you.


Jennifer Osland Hillen ’02

Rusty Allen is the reason so many Randolph alums are changing the world. He shaped my life more than he’ll ever know and is a big reason that I pursued a career in independent school leadership. My senior year, Mr. Allen became the butterfly in my butterfly effect because of a particular conversation we had in his office about school choice and the future that most certainly led me to where I am today.



Mr. Allen’s life devotion to Randolph wasn’t an obligation, it was a choice that he made over and over again for so many years, for countless lucky students. We are privileged to have known and been changed by Mr. Allen and try to honor him by paying his devotion forward in our lives. I’m amazed at how immediately he recognizes every single student he’s ever encountered and genuinely cares about our well-being, even years (or decades!) after shaping our formidable adolescence and transitions into adulthood.



With his uncanny ability to bring levity or be serious, to comfort or entertain, to inspire or listen, Mr. Allen is a gift to those he meets and to nearly every aspect of the Randolph School experience.

Is there any higher praise that can be given to a teacher, a coach, an advisor, an administrator, or any other person who works with young people than to be described as “the butterfly in my butterfly effect”?

Because Rusty began his career as a science teacher, I am confident that you will forgive me this brief excursion into the origin of that expression. In 1961, an MIT professor of meteorology named Edward Lorenz entered 12 variables into a weather-simulating computer program and then went to get a cup of coffee while the machine ran. He was only repeating a simulation he had already run — but this time, without really thinking about it, he had rounded off one variable from .506127 to .506. That tiny alteration in a single variable drastically transformed the entire pattern that his program produced over two months of simulated weather. Lorenz called this phenomenon the “butterfly effect” after the notion that a single flap of a butterfly’s wings might ultimately produce a tornado.

Our most significant effects on the lives of our students are often obtained in the smallest of our actions. In a letter to his brother Theo in October 1882, Vincent van Gogh wrote that “the great doesn’t happen through impulse alone, but is a succession of little things that are brought together.” Ours are fragile wings with which to affect young people’s lives, but we must beat them repeatedly, and hopefully, nevertheless, no matter the weather.

Rusty’s extraordinary legacy at Randolph, and at the other schools he has served throughout his career, is ultimately a legacy not of the accumulation of positions or titles or administrative authority and leadership, but rather a legacy of small things – of tens of thousands of butterfly effects. And what an exemplary and humbling legacy it is to all of us.

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Topics: awards, college counseling, #rgrads, service, preparation, alumni, Randolph alumni

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