Remembering Tony Jarvis, From Across the Atlantic

This month—October 7—marks the one year anniversary of the death of Tony Jarvis, Roxbury Latin’s transformative tenth headmaster who served the school for 30 years, from 1974 to 2004. Through Tony, Roxbury Latin developed a close relationship with Eton College, an independent boarding school in Windsor, England. Several young RL alumni in recent years have gone on to experience a gap year as Hennessy Scholars at Eton, before going on to college. On this anniversary of Tony’s death, Eric Anderson—headmaster of Eton from 1980 to 1994 and provost from 2000 to 2009—shared these remembrances of his dear friend, Tony Jarvis:

Tony Jarvis and I first met at Harvard’s 350th Anniversary celebrations. I was giving a paper to the seminar on Moral Education organized by Memorial Church, and Tony was appointed as the respondent. We took to each other, spent much of that weekend together, and met almost  every year for the next thirty-five years—either in England on his annual visits to Walsingham and the Three Choirs Festival, or at Roxbury Latin, where Poppy and I had the pleasure of being present on a number of occasions—when new buildings were being celebrated, and where I once had the honour of speaking to the RL community in Hall. In May of last year we lunched together in Oxford for what we both knew was the last time.

He was the best headmaster I ever met. First and foremost he understood boys, he loved them, and he knew what would help them to live good lives. It was a sheer delight to walk round the school with him and to appreciate the extraordinary relationship he had with every student. None passed without a word, usually about something they had recently achieved. His views on education were always correct—especially, I have to say, when they were not politically correct—and I envied him the memorable way in which he could sum up his view in a memorable phrase.

British schools, unlike American schools, are obliged to provide some religious education, and  boarding schools normally have one or more school chaplains. Eton was lucky enough to have Tony Jarvis as a supernumerary chaplain on two occasions. The first came as the result of a plot by his chairman of trustees Harry Lewis, Peter Gomes from Harvard, and me. We all felt that a few weeks of refreshment and renewal would be valuable to Tony, but removing him from the “One True School” for even a short time was a problem. He was resistant to the idea of a sabbatical, but the offer of a temporary post at England’s largest boarding school, under the shadow of the Queen’s weekend residence, Windsor Castle, might just possibly, we hoped, be an irresistible temptation to a patriotic Republican who was also an anglophile and royalist. I never discovered if Tony knew what had gone on behind the scenes, but he accepted the invitation and, as you would expect, was a great success.

On the second occasion, newly retired from RL, he came for a whole year. He made lasting friendships with many masters and boys and was given the rare distinction when he left of  honorary membership of the Old Etonian Association—a status traditionally reserved for those with twenty years service to the school. Even better—Tony would have said this was much, much better—Jack Hennessy, Roxbury Latin Class of 1954, visited us when Tony was at Eton and decided to fund an annual scholarship for an RL graduate to spend a year at Eton before going on to college. The scheme has been a great success both for Eton and for the splendid young Americans it has brought into our midst, thirteen of them so far.

That is not quite the end of the story. Eton was founded in 1440, as “The King’s College of Our Lady of Eton beside Windsor.” (You will readily guess how much Tony Jarvis approved of that!) In a side chapel of King Henry VI’s great Eton building there is a small mediaeval statue of the Virgin Mary, teaching her infant son to read. A few months ago the Provost, Lord Waldegrave, was discussing with the buildings committee the re-lighting of this Memorial Chapel, but had to  decide that with other pressing priorities it would have to wait. The next day brought a letter from a Boston lawyer to say that F. Washington Jarvis had left a legacy to Eton—to be precise, had left exactly the sum the committee had identified as necessary for the work. So shortly, very near the statue of Our Lady in a re-lit Memorial Chapel, a modest brass plate will appear commemorating the generosity of Tony Jarvis, “Headmaster of The Roxbury Latin School and friend of Eton.”

Tony will not be forgotten here—although he will be much missed by many people on this side of the Atlantic—not least by the Etonians who met him when they were boys, and by Poppy and me. who counted him as one of our dearest friends.

Eric Anderson of Eton College
Headmaster 1980-1994
Provost 2000-2009