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Remembering "Mac" Simms

Clark McKercher Simms P’76, who was a member of The Gunnery community from 1959 to 1978, serving as Assistant Headmaster, Director of Admissions, Dean of Faculty, and as a member of the English Department faculty, passed away on July 12 in Wells, Maine. He was 87 years old.
“Mac,” as he was known to all, was born on July 27, 1931, in Montclair, New Jersey. A graduate of Montclair Academy, where he served as Student Council President, vice president of his class, and editor of the school newspaper, he received a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from Princeton in 1953 and the Class of 1882 Prize in Ethics. He spent three years in the U.S. Army, including 16 months in intelligence in Korea, for which he later received a Commendation Medal, before earning his master’s in teaching from Yale in 1957. 

Writing to then-Headmaster Ogden D. Miller H’69 P’50 ’54 ’55 GP’84 in the spring of 1959, Simms said it was at Princeton that he decided to forgo his interests in ministry and politics to become a teacher. He took additional graduate courses in literature at Harvard and taught English for two years at Newton High School outside of Boston before applying to The Gunnery, noting in his correspondence with Miller that his wife, Carol, had spent much of her life in Westport and still had family in Connecticut. 

In addition to teaching English, his early extra-curricular assignments included serving on the Publications Committee, as editor of alumni news for the Bulletin, and as a faculty advisor to the Press Club, Camera Club and Debate Club.

In 1961, Simms became Director of Admissions, and in 1963, Assistant Headmaster, a position he held until 1968, and again in 1977. During his 19 years with the school, he coached crew, JV soccer, and skiing, led the Outdoor Club, served as a financial aid officer, as Curriculum Committee chair, secretary of the Cum Laude Chapter,  and head dormitory master in Whittlesey and Gunn, among other duties. 

Outside of campus, Simms was active in the community, serving on the Washington School Board and as a trustee of the Washington Citizens Scholarship Foundation (now the Washington Scholarship Fund). He was chairman of the town’s Democratic Town Committee from 1968 to 1972, and became the party’s candidate in the 32nd District State Senate race in 1970, on a ticket that included future governor Ella Grasso, who was then running for Congress. 

Simms embodied the school’s motto, Vir bonus semper discipulus est – A good man (person) is always a student – enrolling in experiential workshops, taking graduate courses at Trinity College, and designing an ambitious sabbatical for himself in the spring and summer of 1974 to study and assess the practice of humanistic education with the goal of incorporating the best methods and strategies into his classroom. “I am convinced that the teachers best able to help students learn are those who are still learning, that those best able to help students grow are those who are still growing,” he wrote at the time.

“Mac was an excellent teacher and a good friend,” said Wally Rowe H’57 P ’77 ’79, who was Chair of the English Department during Simms’ tenure. “Mac was engrossed in ideas – political, philosophical, religious – and he was able to get his students thinking and committing themselves to causes and ideals. Mac could be angry, but just at the right person and at the right time. He enjoyed laughing, particularly at himself. For his sense of citizenship, his warmth and his intelligence, he will be deeply missed."

“Mac was a true mentor and supporter of new faculty,” said Michael Eanes H’90 P’90 GP’20 ’23, who was hired by Simms to teach chemistry. “He ‘broke in’ Steve Davol ’61, Hal Sheets, III ’61 and me during our first year, 1965, with compassion and probably an excessive amount of patience.  Known for his teaching and administrative skill, Mac was a progressive educator, always keeping us focused on the student.  He was on the cutting edge of curriculum development and pedagogy.”

After The Gunnery, Simms was appointed Chairman of the English, History and Religion Department at Oakwood School in Poughkeepsie, New York, and served as headmaster there from 1980 to 1988. He was a faculty member at Millbrook School from 1990 to 1992.

“Mac always wanted to make the biggest possible difference at the schools where he worked,” his son, Jonathan ’76, and brother-in-law, Jeffrey Jones ’63, wrote in his obituary. “His personal, ongoing inquiry was discovering whether this was best achieved by teaching English … or working in Administration. He loved to teach English, especially Herman Melville's ‘Moby Dick.’ Teaching also gave him the opportunity to enjoy the afternoons, coaching, being with family, or just outdoors.”

The Class of 1978 respectfully dedicated The Red and Gray to Simms, writing in the yearbook that he had “made an impression on The Gunnery that will be everlasting.”

“As he has helped others grow – in self-confidence, in integrity, in vigor – he, too, has grown,” the students wrote. “His beloved paths in Steep Rock are a symbol of his career here. Not only has Mac Simms ‘created’ all of the trails in Steep Rock, he has also carved the paths between students and teachers, between teachers and teachers, and – more important – between a person’s physical being and his mental being. In a word, Mac Simms is a humanist.”

Simms is survived by his wife, Chase, the four children of his blended family, Jonathan, William, Amanda and Leonardo, and their families.
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Founded in 1850 by abolitionist, educator, and outdoorsman Frederick Gunn, The Gunnery is a coeducational college preparatory boarding and day school for students in grades 9 through 12/post-graduate. Dedicated teacher-mentor-coaches challenge students to reach their full potential in a home-like setting where character and citizenship are valued as much as intellect and achievement. Individualized attention and high expectations help young learners develop not only the skills and confidence they will need in college, but also the moral compass and love of learning that will serve them well in life. The school attracts ambitious, academically curious students who will both shine as unique individuals and thrive as contributing members of a deeply connected community. By the time they graduate, Gunnery students have become well rounded, grounded young adults with a sharpened sense of who they are and who they want to become.