Soon after G. Peter O’Neill, Jr. announced that he would be retiring from Garrison Forest School at the end of this academic year, some key folks at the institution began working behind the scenes to create a once-in-a-lifetime send-off for their beloved departing headmaster of twenty years.
Last night, at the Orioles’ first night game of the 2014 season, O’Neill threw out the first pitch. It was, said O’Neill, “The thrill of a lifetime.” He was fortunate to receive expert advice beforehand from Brooks Robinson, former Oriole great and a grandparent at Garrison, who told him: “Aim high.”
O’Neill, a lifelong Red Sox fan and transplant from New England, made a two-decade career out of what was meant to be a temporary position at Garrison Forest. Though O’Neill fell in love with the school, he maintained his allegiance to the Boston Red Sox. Diplomatically, he chose to wear Garrison garb during his brief stint on the Orioles’ mound.
It’s safe to say that most of the 400-plus Garrison Forest fans in the stands at Camden Yards last night probably were routing for the home team, which lost. Nonetheless, the school came together at the Yard to celebrate O’Neill’s successful tenure—an objective that very well may have transcended team loyalty.
In O’Neill’s honor, Garrison’s award-winning Chamber Choir sang a beautiful rendition of the National Anthem before the start of the game, and the largest-ever contingent of Garrison fans created a huge cheering section, winning them the Heavy Hitter Award from the Baltimore Orioles. Talk about spirit.
It’s no wonder.
When O’Neill departs from Garrison Forest at the end of the school year, he will leave behind an enormous footprint. Under his leadership, the school raised more than $64 million in endowment and capital funds; saw unprecedented campus-wide expansions; and received global recognition for innovative programs, such as its STEM partnership with Johns Hopkins. Clearly the school has thrived under O’Neill’s leadership. It seems the opposite is true, too.
“It’s been a wonderful place for me and my family. I’m so touched and humbled by the school’s thoughtfulness in connecting it with another one of my loves,” O’Neill said, referring to the Boston Red Sox.
After a year as the interim head at New Canaan Country School in New Canaan, Connecticut, O’Neill plans to retire in New England. He’s keenly aware that his current position was, like his pending one, slated to last only a year. But he quickly dismissed the possibility of a repeat—lengthy—service. “That won’t happen, unless the school plans to add an assisted living wing onto its campus,” he joked.
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