At Home in the Mansion House

head of school plays pool with students at the governor's academy
Head Of School Peter H. Quimby, Ph.D. '85 P'14

How the Head of School’s residence reflects and defines school values

While I associate the words “Happy New Year” at least as much with the beginning of September as with the first of January, the start of a new calendar year provides us with an opportunity to see things through a new lens, and perhaps to refocus our attention on those things that matter most to us–on those things that are essential. As 2024 begins for me, I find myself reflecting on the house that my wife and I reside in on campus. For most of The Governor’s Academy’s 261-year history, the head of school has lived in a house that, since its construction in 1716, has been called the Mansion House. But at Govs, the Mansion House is so much more than a place for the head of school and their family to live.

Exactly 40 years ago, Peter Bragdon arrived as a new head of school, and he and his wife, Dottie, established a tradition that has benefitted generations of Govs students–weekend Open House in the Mansion House. Peter and Dottie opened their home every Saturday night to any students who wanted to stop by for snacks, board games, ping pong, pool, or the company of friends and adults in a place that felt like home. I was a junior at Govs when this tradition started and I witnessed firsthand how this seemingly simple act changed the culture of the school.

For those of us who live and work in boarding schools, interacting with students outside the classroom is more a passion than a job. It is what gives our work its deepest meaning. Engaging with students and guiding them in all areas of their lives is what makes our work so fulfilling, both personally and professionally. This is why, when my wife, Laurie, and I came to The Governor’s Academy 13 years ago we committed to continuing the tradition that the Bragdons began so many years before.

For students today, the term “Mansion House” has two meanings–it is both the head’s residence and the event that occurs on weekend evenings. For Laurie and me, it is most often a Friday night, and when people ask me about Mansion House I often refer to it as the best part of my week, every week, all year long. When else can I simply immerse myself in the lives of our students? While my weekdays are filled with meetings, on Friday night I can laugh together with students over a game of pool, hear how students spent time with their families during Winter Break over a game of cards, and learn about the beloved pet that a student misses dearly while they are petting our black lab, Porter. I can share in the excitement of exams aced, college acceptances earned, and games won, or commiserate over classes that are challenging, decisions that didn’t go their way, or games that got away. Simply put, I can engage in the parts of their lives that are most meaningful to them. What greater honor is there than to be let into another person’s life? And how much more wonderful it is when the person letting you in is an adolescent looking for support and guidance as they figure out who they are and what kind of difference they want to make in the world.

When people outside of Govs hear that Laurie and I have standing plans with dozens of teenagers every Friday night during the school year, they often think we have taken leave of our senses. Really? Every Friday night? They tend to see it as a sacrifice that we make for the school. To me it feels like one of the most selfish things we could possibly do. So as a new calendar year begins I find myself reflecting on how fortunate my wife and I are to live in a house that feels so much like a home for so many members of our community, and to live in a community where building a sense of home is so central to everything that we do.


Author: Head of School Peter H. Quimby, Ph.D. '85 P'14

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