Uncovering the Norwich Story

The Living Legacy of Gary Lord, Dana Professor Emeritus of History,

by Jacque E. Day.

 

April 27, 2017:
“Now that you’re approaching the last few weeks of your last semester, what is going through your mind—what’s going through your heart?”

“Terror.”

“Seriously?”

“Seriously. I’ve got to get all of this stuff out of my office by May 15.”

(Photo by Mark Collier.)

(Photo by Mark Collier.)

When Gary Lord retired after 47 years on the Norwich faculty, a boom swept across the Hill—the sound of air rushing in to fill the vacuum of his vacated office in Ainsworth Hall. On rare occasions, a great athlete’s jersey is retired, the number never to be worn by another. This past spring, shortly after Professor Lord led his final commencement procession as bearer of the Spencer Memorial Mace, a renovation to Ainsworth began—part of an ongoing campus construction project. When the work is complete, the professor’s office as we knew it will no longer exist. So in a stroke of poetic justice, the mystical forces of Norwich University ensured that, much like his unfillable shoes, Gary Lord’s office will never again be occupied.

Lord joined the Norwich history faculty in 1969, a momentous year marking the university’s 150th anniversary. While he observed a general buzz about Norwich’s long and illustrious story, he also became more and more aware of how little was being done to “disseminate, to develop, to exploit that history and those traditions.”

So he started nosing around.

“I discovered that the neglected Partridge papers were in a utility room in the basement of the old Chaplin Library,” he reflected, surrounded by half-empty shelves and book-filled boxes that represented the state of his office in late April—perhaps symbolically reflective of the room where he uncovered the writings of Alden Partridge nearly five decades earlier.

In his early tenure at Norwich, Professor Lord (pictured in the 1980s) became the curator of the Norwich University special collections. He would receive the official designation of Norwich University Historian in 2004.

“The storage room had a steel bank vault door, but that door was always kept open,” he recalled of the space, now long-ago remodeled and repurposed. “And there was a secondary screen door, wire mesh from top to bottom—and that door was padlocked.” He chuckled at the irony. “The papers, which were fairly voluminous, and included record books and published material and probably catalogs and pamphlets, were arranged on a wall, and they were kept in cheap paper boxes.” His eyes lit up at the memory, and he began to speak more quickly. “On the opposite wall, there was a large panel for telephone switches. So, periodically, routinely, the telephone repairman would have to come into the room and fiddle with the wires and the switches. And then, on the outside wall, there was a window at ground level, which was usually kept open. So if the cadets on campus wanted to get into this room, it would have been easy enough.”

And yet the papers lay there, largely undisturbed, until Gary Lord uncovered them and carried them into the light of day. Unbeknownst to him, this moment marked the genesis of his long tenure as the standard bearer for the Norwich story.

Time Capsule

“I’ve been given a space in the museum – not as an exhibit.”

June 22, 2017:
Gary Lord settled casually into a chair in the rotunda of the Sullivan Museum and History Center, having just emerged from a workroom in the museum where a desk tucked into a corner serves as his new on-campus digs. It is a fitting post-retirement working space for the professor emeritus, an homage to the man who laid the foundation for the museum and archives as they exist today.

“So how did it fall to you? How did you become the Norwich historian?”

“Out of necessity—nobody else was doing it.”

It is impossible to quantify Gary Lord’s far-reaching impact on Norwich University. In uncovering the Norwich story, he gave us the gift of institutional identity. His contributions are too numerous to detail in these pages, so instead, we present this time capsule, a few illuminating moments at the intersections of his legacy.

Partridge: A Man Ahead of His Time
“One of the best commentaries that I’ve found on Alden Partridge goes into great detail about his appearance and his habits—and the fact that he was reserved,” Lord said. “He seldom smiled, and some described him as thoughtful and even shy. And yet, he had the ability to motivate and inspire his students.”

But more than the man, it is Partridge’s vision that intrigues Lord. “He was driven by his philosophy of education, his attitudes about the need for educational reform—that would include citizen-soldiery—which he thought should be the backbone of national defense.” Partridge, he said, lectured all over the United States, successfully using the press to publish his lectures to spread word of his American System of Education.

Axe the Point
Partridge had a long and dramatic history with West Point, beginning as a student. While on the faculty, he “introduced many novel ideas in educational methods,” according to his U.S. Military Academy biography, which also praises his “remarkable mathematical ability.”

In the decades following his court-martial and subsequent dismissal from West Point, Partridge grew disillusioned about the institution. “He began to look at West Point as a nursery of elitism that was creating a military aristocracy,” Lord said, adding that Partridge was not alone in his view. In 1830, Partridge published a pamphlet, “The Military Academy, at West Point, Unmasked.” In 1841, he adapted the pamphlet contents into a proposal calling for Congress to abolish West Point altogether.

Remembering the Honored
“When I was serving as the curator of what was then called the Norwich Museum, I was asked to develop an exhibit in Jackman Hall to honor Norwich’s only known Medal of Honor recipient, Captain James Burt ’39,” Lord recalls. But he couldn’t fathom that in 150 years of history, Norwich had only one Medal of Honor awardee among its alumni. He began poring through records, and through his research uncovered the names of five more.

Out of that exercise evolved the Medal of Honor Gallery, which Lord designed with painstaking attention to detail. The gallery underwent a facelift in 2016, and is still in its original home in Jackman Hall.

“Stories to be Told”
Today’s Sullivan Museum and History Center is a sophisticated operation with a robust staff and a Smithsonian Affiliate designation. Five floors overhead in the adjoining Kreitzberg Library, the staff of the NU Archives collects and preserves Norwich’s valuable documents and photographs. Contrast that with 1969, the year Lord arrived, a time in which, as he reflects, “I think the university had lost its bearings in terms of understanding the ideological basis upon which it rested.” What collections the museum did house were tucked away in the basement of White Chapel. “And there were no archives.”

The young professor saw a great untapped potential. “There were stories to be told.”
By 1973, taking increasing notice of Lord’s pursuits, President Loring Hart designated him curator of special collections, an appointment he embraced above and beyond his teaching duties. “It was a broad and ambitious purview that included everything, which I liked. It gave me plenty of room to work with not only archival materials but museum artifacts as well.” He held the position until 2004, cultivating and expanding the university’s collections for more than 30 years, and eventually participating in the planning for the Sullivan Museum.

The Essential Gary Lord
In 2004, the unofficial became the official when Gary Lord was named Norwich University Historian. Here are some other fun facts about the essential Gary Lord:

PhD: History, University of Virginia.

Academic focus: Early American history, American military
policy, and the history of higher education.

Wrote the proposal to raise the minimum GPA for graduation,
implemented in 1975.

Co-designed the Military Studies program, precursor to
Studies in War and Peace, implemented in 1978.

Proposed the Alden Partridge U.S. postage stamp,
issued in 1985 at a value of 11 cents, to commemorate
the 200th anniversary of the founder’s birth.


Led the effort
to acquire or commission
official Norwich presidential portraits.

Curator, Norwich Museum, 1973 to 2004.

Named Dana Professor of History, 1990.

Chaired the Faculty Senate from 1999 to 2005.

Chair, Department of History & Political Science,
1980 to 1983, 1999 to 2005.

Head, Division of Social Sciences, 1983 to 1996.

Over the years, mentored many interns, undergraduate
research scholars, and students in yearlong honors projects.

Possesses a disarming sense of humor.

 

Spencer Memorial Mace

The Spencer Memorial Mace

Every university should have a mace. That is what Gary Lord thought. So he designed one.

“The installation on October 15, 1982, of MG W. Russell Todd as Norwich University’s 22nd president was the occasion of the premiere appearance of the Spencer Memorial Mace in an academic ceremony,” Lord wrote in the March 1983 issue of the Norwich Record. “The ceremonial scepter, or mace, represents the academic authority of the university and is carried by the senior member of the faculty. Customarily a mace precedes an academic procession, and its placement or removal from a place of honor marks the opening or conclusion of an academic ceremony. The Norwich mace is named in honor of the late Dana Professor of Government, Eber A. Spencer Jr., and

Lord bears the mace at 2015 commencement.

Lord bears the mace at 2015 commencement.

was given to the university by Richard S. King ’68 and Dudley H. Willis ’64 as a tribute to the teacher who played a vital and transforming role in their education, and who served the university with great distinction for the last three decades.”

In a twist of irony, when Lord became the senior faculty member, he hesitated to carry the mace himself. It was only in the last few years that he began to bear the Spencer Memorial Mace during ceremonial events.

A Man of Influence

“Norwich University is the lengthened shadow of Alden Partridge.”

June 30, 2017

The seal to Lord’s lasting legacy will be his prolific body of written work about Norwich. When discussions began about a book (pictured) to commemorate the 175th anniversary of the university’s founding, Lord insisted that it include a section on Norwich history—he is the author of that section. His scholarly publications and presentations, as well as his general-interest writing, are too extensive to list. But it is worth noting that he has penned more than three dozen articles and biographical sketches related to Norwich history. He is presently at work on a biography of Alden Partridge.

Professor Lord sat on the back porch of the Vermont farmhouse he restored with his wife of 25 years, Betty, and looked out over the gardens and the cleared land and the vineyard he hopes to put more attention to, now that he’s retired. Tucked away in a clearing off a Brookfield back road, the Lord residence extends beyond physical charm into a magical realm where time seems to stop. Betty emerged with a round of honey-sweetened tea just as the question came up about the day’s date. She spoke in her lilting, elegant, Alabama voice. “It’s June 30.”

Professor Lord’s head turned slightly. “My last day on the Norwich payroll.”

“What happens now?” I asked.

“Now I know I won’t get paid.”

After the laughter died down and all were sufficiently hydrated, Betty took a seat and listened to her husband speak about the Norwich stories that revealed themselves within the Partridge papers. “I found that he corresponded with many important people in government and in education,” he said, reflecting on the founder’s impact on the system of American education we take for granted today. “There was a letter from Thomas Jefferson. There was correspondence with James Monroe.”

Betty leaned in. “May I interject something?”

She wanted to make sure we knew that Professor Lord once served as curator of the Norwich Museum, when it was located in the lower level of White Chapel before the creation of the Sullivan Museum and History Center. He cleared his throat. “I think they have that information.”

“But I want to talk about you.” As she spoke on affectionately about her husband, he blushed a little. She paused and smiled. “After all, he is my favorite professor.”

Gary Lord hardly seems retired. He hasn’t left campus—he simply moved, to a desk at the Sullivan Museum, where he carries on his research for a Partridge biography. Of the Norwich founder’s West Point court-martial, Lord says it has “been the subject of so much spilled ink” that he’s not going to dwell on it. Rather, in his depiction of Partridge’s pre-Norwich life, Lord has chosen to focus on his long-overlooked positive contributions to the U.S. Military Academy. “First of all, the fact that Partridge just about single-handedly kept West Point operating during the War of 1812. If it hadn’t been for his tenaciousness, his all-consuming desire to make the place work, the institution might not have survived.”

Some go so far as to liken Gary Lord to Captain Alden Partridge, a living embodiment of the university founder. After all, he does keep the Partridge discussion lively and relevant. But Lord shies away from the comparison, characterizing the relentlessly driven Partridge as “serious” and “austere.” Fair enough. Still, most associations aside, one rings true—where would Norwich be today if not for Gary Lord’s tenaciousness, his all-consuming desire to uncover the Norwich story, and bring it into the light?

Where would we be without Professor Lord’s great and living Norwich legacy?

Fortunately, we will never know the answer.

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