Distinguished Alumnus Award
Distinguished Alumnus Award Mission Statement:
The Distinguished Alumnus Award recognizes a deserving alumnus who has achieved distinction in his professional career, humanitarian endeavors, or other areas of his life. This award honors an individual who has embraced the core values emphasized at Avon Old Farms. By celebrating the accomplishments of the recipient, Avon Old Farms nourishes the strong sense of pride within our school community and acknowledges the inherent value in recognizing excellence among our alumni.
The prestigious Distinguished Alumnus Award is bestowed based upon the selection and recommendation of the National Council, a group of up to 60 individuals representing alumni, parents, and friends of Avon of Avon Old Farms School, and in consultation with the Headmaster. The award is given every other year.
2014 Distinguished Alumnus Award
Avon's Distinguished Alumnus Award recognizes a deserving alumnus who has achieved distinction in his professional career, humanitarian endeavors, or other areas of his life. The recipients of this year's Distinguished Alumnus Award, presented during Reunion weekend, were Donald R. "Pete" Hart Jr. '36, who was honored posthumously, along with Stephen S. Lash '58 and Allan J. O'Connor '75.
The ceremony began on Saturday morning, May 17, when the Alumni Parade – led by Headmaster LaRocque and a marching band – processed through the entire student body who lined the walkways to the Beatson Performing Arts Center. Once inside the Susan Casey Brown Auditorium, the crowd was welcomed by the headmaster, who greeted everyone, explained the award, and welcomed Ned Wickes ’36, who, at 97 years old, is Avon’s oldest living alumnus.
Next, Christine Hart accepted the Distinguished Alumnus Award on behalf of her father, “Pete” Hart ’36. She spoke of her father’s lifelong love for Avon Old Farms, and recounted his humor, wit, and appreciation for his life’s adventures. She also spoke of her father’s relationship with the school, noting that he rarely missed a Reunion or school gathering, and of his close relationship with Pete Seeger ’36 – another Distinguished Alumnus – who was his polar opposite in almost every way, save for the bond they forged through Avon.
Stephen Lash ’58 was honored next; the chairman emeritus of Christie’s delivered an engaging and humorous speech detailing his “love and respect for this institution where heart, soul, mind, and body all develop in highly individual ways.” Stephen spoke of his love for travel, French language, art history, and especially art and architecture – passions he developed as a student at Avon – and noted, “My early love of Avon’s Cotswold village taught me that designing a life is a lot like designing a building.” He urged students to surround themselves with bright, talented people, which he was fortunate to be able to do as a student at Avon Old Farms.
Finally, Allan O’Connor ’75 was presented with his Distinguished Alumnus Award, and suggested that the group think about the four principles he’s followed throughout his life: set high goals for oneself; make great things happen; do good things; and don’t give up when times are tough. As a driving force behind one of Avon’s most successful strategic plans, and a lifelong intellectual, entrepreneur, and philanthropist, Al encouraged students to find what they love and be open to change as they develop throughout their lives.
Donald R. "Pete" Hart Jr. '36
The late Donald R. "Pete" Hart Jr. ’36 graduated from Amherst College in 1940, and was drafted into the army in 1941. He served in the field artillery and also attended Officers’ Candidate School. Pete was multilingual, speaking over 13 languages (nine of them fluently), and those skills contributed to the fact that he was asked to volunteer to help start, with 250 other volunteers, the OSS, the U.S. wartime intelligence agency (predecessor of the CIA), which was formed during World War II in order to coordinate espionage activities behind enemy lines. Pete joined in 1943, and during his time of service, he handled French sabotage operations in France, ran a spy transit station, and captured Nazi collaborators in Paris after its liberation, all for which he received the prestigious and coveted Legion of Honor medal from the French Government, the highest award bestowed on a non-French citizen. Pete served in England, France, and Italy. In 1945 he accepted a position in the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA), which planned for and administered relief for victims of war in any area under the control of the United Nations. He returned to Germany in 1946 to serve as investigations officer for the War trials. After discharge, he served in the U.S. Army Reserve for 33 years, retiring as a colonel with a top-secret clearance.
Pete returned to the U.S. in 1946 to teach at the University of Richmond. Following this, he came to Avon Old Farms School to teach languages and was head of the language department in 1949. He studied at the Sorbonne in Paris in 1951, and was a partner in or worked for various travel agencies for years. From 1983 to 1999, he and his wife, Vera, volunteered for the disaster program of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), working at more than 30 disaster sites, being on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and earning nothing but expenses. From 1981 on, he was also a member of the National Defense Executive Reserve, a government organization set up to help the nation survive a nuclear attack.
Pete, who died in 2011 at the age of 93, was a true patriot and humanitarian.
Stephen S. Lash '58
Stephen S. Lash ’58 is the chairman emeritus of Christie's Americas, which launched its first galleries in New York as a result of a business proposal he wrote in 1976 as an investment banker with the London firm of S.G. Warburg.
A Bostonian, Mr. Lash's interest in the fine arts can be traced in part to Avon, where he developed a keen appreciation for the school's architecture and history. A French major at Yale, he traveled abroad, each international city furthering his interest in art and architecture. An MBA in international business from Columbia was followed by 10 years at "Warburg's," paving the way for an art career that culminated with serving as chairman of Christie's.
Mr. Lash serves as acting president and trustee of the Institute of Fine Arts at New York University, and as trustee of the Museum of the City of New York, the Park Avenue Armory, the New York Landmarks Conservancy, where he served as chairman for several years, and the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts, where he serves as an overseer. He is current co-chair of the American Friends of the Israel Museum, for which he served as president for six years, and has served on the Boards of the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission and the Preservation League of New York State.
Mr. Lash is also a longtime auctioneer and fundraiser for a variety of philanthropic and charitable organizations, including the Heart & Soul Foundation, the Animal Medical Center in New York, Wave Hill, and the Untermyer Gardens Conservancy. From 2004 to 2011 Mr. Lash served on Avon's Board of Directors, during which time he also served as auctioneer for the annual Blue Blazer Ball. He currently serves as an Honorary Director, with continued involvement in the school's architectural preservation and restoration.
Allan J. O'Connor '75
Allan J. O’Connor ’75 has used his intelligence, his work-ethic, and his common sense to succeed in a wide variety of ventures in his life: from his work in the 1980s on the computerization and use of robots for automobile assembly lines; to his leadership in developing control systems for the MX missile program while serving in the Air Force; to his entrepreneurial adventures as a real estate developer of shopping malls, and later as the founder of a marketing company for the mail order industry; to founding a hedge fund that traded $50 billion annually using complicated mathematical formulas to inform its investing; to founding a non-profit organization, “Opportunity For All,” whose goal is to eliminate poverty throughout the world by building schools (144 to date) and providing educational opportunity for thousands of marginalized youth.
Al served on Avon’s Board of Directors for 10 years, and has been an honorary member of the Board since 2009. He was the treasurer of the Board for several years, and he helped transform the school’s strategic plan, completed at the end of the 20th century, into a focused capital building plan that resulted in the construction of the Ordway Science and Technology Center, Brown Student Center, athletic complex, and Beatson Performing Arts Center, as well as several faculty housing units and a new power plant, and many other campus improvements. He was also responsible for funding many smaller campus projects like rebuilding the Beaver Pond dam, constructing the filming tower on Ryan Field, and adding air conditioning to our library.
The previous recipients of the Distinguished Alumnus Award are:
- Pete Seeger '36 (2008)
- Francis K.C. Madeira '34 (2010)
- David C. Bigelow '44 (2010)
- Dr. Laurence B. Gardner '59 (2010)
- Gilman W. Ordway '44 (2010)
- Kristian M. Bush '88 (2012)
- Brendan L. McKernan '89 and Kevin J. McKernan '91 (2012)
- Seth F. Mendell '52 (2012)