Laurie Fais

A Remembrance of Dorothy L. Peirce

Note: In 1985 I was asked to do a series of workshops on how computers could help students with learning disabilities at The Forman School, a small prep school in rural Connecticut. I liked the people I met there so much that I left the University of Oregon to start Forman’s computer program. The woman who helped me construct that program was Dr. Laurel Fais who ran Forman’s language training program. The woman who helped us integrate computers into the rest of the school was Forman’s academic dean who was also the wife of its headmaster, Dorothy Peirce. Dorothy had long since retired to rural Vermont when she passed away on February 28th. This past sunday Forman had a memorial service for Dorothy and Laurie wrote and read the eulogy below. There’s not much I can add, Laurie wrote and delivered a eulogy that would make Dorothy very proud. No doubt she is.

dorothy_peirceRemembrance of Dorothy L. Peirce
Alumni Weekend
The Forman School
May 8, 2011
Laurel Fais

I first met Dorothy in my final interview for a job at Forman in 1983. She slipped into her husband, Richard Peirce’s office as he and I chatted, made a few pleasant remarks that put me at my ease, and it wasn’t until later that I realized I had seen my first glimpse in action, of the incredible partnership of Richard and Dorothy Peirce that fueled the energy of the Forman School in those days. If I may be excused verging on blasphemy, though somehow for those of us who know them it doesn’t seem much like blasphemy, Richard proposeth, Dorothy disposeth. Richard lived the visions that they shared for this newly-turned college preparatory school for LD students, and Dorothy made them happen.

I arrived in June of 1983, a new Language Training teacher as it was called then. I was lucky to have the summer to get to know Dorothy, and to begin to understand the principles, the foundations and the motivations behind the sophisticated, comprehensive curriculum that she was in the process of building, a curriculum that reflected her passion to make it possible for these students to achieve to their utmost potential, and more personally for these students to perhaps realize even just a little, the same sort of love she felt for ideas, for language, for knowledge. I drank in her fervent explanations, learned from her profound understanding of the ways of both education and adolescents, marveled at her calm, matter-of-fact attention to every detail, and the long, long hours she selflessly devoted to her professional life as Academic Dean. She made me want to learn everything about helping these students that I could; she made me want to be like her. She had that effect on many of us, through the sheer magnetism of her being, and, I know I am not alone in this group to think that she changed my life, and made me a more worthy human being, by the very intensity of her own professionalism and integrity.

Now, remember that this was the 80’s, and the 80’s for me was the time of the Wonder Woman—the woman who had family and children and was of course the perfect mother, but who also proudly had a successful career at which she excelled. And I had fashioned Dorothy in my mind as one of these Wonder Women already by the time that school started that fall. So I was completely unprepared for her introductory remarks at the first faculty meeting of the year. She walked up to the podium and said, “I am Dorothy Peirce and I am the Headmaster’s wife.” I was shocked, and at first disappointed in what I had taken to be a denigration of the important professional position she occupied at the school. And then I realized that Dorothy was teaching me again—she transcended those stereotypes—she was as devoted to her husband as she was to her career, and defined herself first by her partnership with him, a personal partnership to be sure, but one that defined the Forman vision in those days. She taught me a gracious balance—she taught me to value my role as wife and mother every bit as much as my role as LT teacher, and she was utterly supportive of all of us young mothers working at the school in those days. She smiled as I nursed babies in committee meetings, and held and burped those babies if I had my hands full. I gave birth to two of my three children on campus in Dobbins House—and Dorothy, who now that I think about it, had to have had many many other crucial things to do in her office, was the one who spent the hours of my labor playing with the two older children, keeping them happy and occupied until she could bring them in to meet their just-born youngest sster. Whereupon she promptly changed and took the birthing sheets off to her house to wash, and made me a cup of tea.

Her family was the entire school. I’m sure Forman is the same now as it was then in at least this respect—by June, everyone is exhausted, spent. I stood with Dorothy on one of the June days as the campus emptied of the last students, and together we waved goodbye to the final van carrying students to Brewster. I could feel my body go limp and I turned to share with her my vast relief and my plans to sleep for the next month, sure that Dorothy, who worked harder than anyone, had to have been as tired as I was, and was brought up short by the tears in her eyes. Yet she turned to me and said “I miss them already.”

I’ve already made three trips to the dictionary and thesaurus trying to avoid the overuse of the word that comes to my mind over and over when I think of Dorothy: grace. With her happy wit, her compassionate sensitivity, her sharp intelligence, and her deft cooking skills, Dorothy was a superb hostess. She had a way of dressing so that those of us/you who came to the Head’s parties looking rather scruffy (and you know who you are) felt just as comfortable standing next to her as those who were capable of slightly more upscale fashion. She herself was elegance mixed with spunk, tempered with a vast tolerance and affection for the vagaries of her Forman family. At the first such party I was invited to, I was completely nervous—how on time or how fashionably late should I be? What should I wear (I tended to the scruffy side)? Would there be drinking—should I bring wine? I settled for flowers, which I hurriedly picked from around Dobbins House I presented them to her when she opened the door and she accepted them with thanks and delight, and led me into the kitchen where she carefully placed them in a vase, and where they stayed. “You know,” she said confidentially, as she smiled and took my arm to introduce me to other faculty and staff members, “those flowers are actually endangered.” [But she accepted them in the spirit in which I had given them, and never let me feel bad or embarrassed about the gift.]

Everyone in this room who knew her could add many, many more stories to these, all of which would illuminate another aspect to this complex, remarkable, brightly vibrant, quietly powerful woman. I hope these words have helped evoke her integrity, her grace, her passion for education, her love of the students, her charm, though they are a poor tribute to such an exceptional woman. I think that she would think that the good that she radiated into this world, and that continues on in all the students she took care of, in the faculty she mentored, and in everyone she touched, is the finest tribute of all.

Laurie Fais

Laurie at Averill Farm

Our dear friend Laurie Fais and two of her three daughters came to visit and it was an incredible time. We all headed up to Averill’s orchard to pick apples and look at the fall colors.

In 1986 Laurie hired me to start the computer program at The Forman School where she was the head of language training. I moved from Oregon to Connecticut and together, Laurie and I built what turned out to be one of the first computer-aided writing projects for dyslexic kids in the country. We only worked together for two years but what an intense and wonderful time it was. We did research, wrote groundbreaking curricula, wrote papers, traveled and presented and we were written up in The New York Times. Apple even made a video about our project and used it in advertising.

During this time, Laurie and her family became my family and later, after I met my wife Anne (indirectly through Laurie) they became her family too.

Laurie and her family moved to Japan where they lived for thirteen years only recently moving to Vancouver, BC. While they were in Japan Anne and I visited them and it was one of the greatest trips of our lives. Being in Japan was wonderful, of course, but being in Japan with Laurie and her family was what made it great.

So, when Laurie and her two daughters came to visit us last week it was a wonderful reunion and I got a nice whiff of both the early days of working with her as well as our great time in Japan.

I miss them already.