Paying it Forward: John A. Hooper CdeP 1934

Joy Sawyer Mulligan
With both sadness and the gratefulness that comes of a beneficent connection with an unusual human being, we report that another of The Thacher School’s elder statesmen has died. John Arthur Hooper graduated from Thacher in 1934 . . .
With both sadness and the gratefulness that comes of a beneficent connection with an unusual human being, we report that another of The Thacher School’s elder statesmen has died. John Arthur Hooper graduated from Thacher in 1934 and went on to Stanford and Harvard, ultimately becoming an attorney and then a NATO representative under Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy and Johnson. Devoted to several charitable and community causes, Mr. Hooper was also a stalwart and staunch supporter of Thacher, and a man whose powerful influence continues to reach through the school he loved: three of his grandchildren attended the School—Alexandra Blair CdeP 1998, Hannah Hooper CdeP 2000, and Alden Blair CdeP 2001—and his daughter, Margo Hooper Blair, is a member of the Board of Trustees.

Head of School Michael K. Mulligan offered the following at a memorial service in honor of John Hooper, February 3, 2007.

John Hooper CdP 1934
April 19, 1917-January 17, 2007
On April 3, 1931, Arthur Hooper, of 2249 Broadway Street, San Francisco, wrote Sherman Day Thacher that the Hoopers would gladly accept Mr. Thacher’s offer to enroll their son John into Mr. Thacher’s School for that coming September.

Mr. Thacher, now ailing and in his last year of overseeing his remarkable school that started as an orange ranch in the Ojai Valley, had become a keen judge of boys and their promise.

He had the benefit, after forty-two years of trial and error, of knowing the right questions to ask about a boy. And the records suggest that parents and headmasters of that era were far more candid in their assessments of youth than our fawning, hyperbolic parents of today, (present company excepted, of course).

Mr. Damon, Headmaster of John’s middle school, wrote to Mr. Thacher that John knew only a “smattering” of Latin (a course that was to prove his bete noire at Thacher); that he had, more happily, “some fluency” in the myths of the Greco-Roman Empire (something to be valued given Mr. Thacher’s interest in Greek Mythology—one may note the role of Pegasus in Thacher’s cosmology and the ubiquitous friezes of Greeks on horseback ensconced about the School); and that he had studied at least the “rough beginnings” of Algebra. So it seems Mr. Thacher had in John Hooper the promise of a nascent scholar.

John also had a head start on the roughrider side of things, a decided advantage, even today, at Thacher. John owned a horse and .22 rifle -- and he knew how to use the rifle; he had some experience with shotguns. Arthur Hooper, however, cautioned Mr. Thacher that John was not to be turned loose with guns with the other boys without some supervision.
Times had changed. Earlier generations of Thacher boys kept firearms and ammo in their rooms and were often proudly photographed with their shooting sticks, bandeleros, and sombreros looking very much like Pancho Villas’ bandits.

But the key to John Hooper was that even at the tender age of 14, he evinced traits of character that were later absolutely manifest -- and indeed celebrated here today. He was, as described by Headmaster Damon and underscored by Arthur Hooper: truthful, straightforward, obedient, and trustworthy. Importantly, he was not quick tempered, pugnacious, or selfish; he “got along well with other boys.” He had not, Arthur said, indulged in alcohol, tobacco nor been “accustomed to seeing the playing of cards or other games for money.”

Lest we scoff at these values clutched tightly to their Puritan breasts, best to remember that Mr. Thacher had once lost his school to fire; tobacco was a dangerous thing in more ways than one. And after the riotous 1920’s, Mr. Thacher—according to his correspondence with Headmaster Taft – decried the loose values, drinking, and gambling that characterized that fractious era. John Hooper was clearly made of the right stuff for Sherman Day Thacher.

But all was not perfect. Arthur noted that his son was “somewhat lacking in initiative and was overly conscientious, rather intent on school work.” (How many parents worry today because their children are too intent on school work?) And when queried by Thacher about John’s joining the Glee Club or orchestra, Arthur spoke plainly and in a way one would also be hard pressed to hear from the parents of today. He wrote: “I wish it could be, but I do not think others could stand it.”

So there it was that on September 24, 1931, John Hooper, along with two Orricks and a Swinerton, climbed aboard the Coaster from San Francisco and arrived in San Buena Ventura the next morning. In short order, John made Thacher his own.

Astoundingly, he was called upon to speak for the Lower Schoolers at the New Year’s Banquet. Mr. Thacher wrote to Arthur: “We were all amazed at how self-possessed he is and how clearly, and interestingly he spoke.”  

Arthur wrote back: “If he has turned into a public speaker, it was without any previous training that I know of. Both his mother and I were very much amused when we heard that he had been called on to attempt such a thing…” Mr. and Mrs. Hooper were clearly in the “ and where did the boy come up with this?” camp.

And now (the Headmaster in me speaks), you begin to see the beauty of a great boarding school: John had begun to unfold his wings and attempt to fly even upon his arrival at Thacher. Thus began a love affair among a young boy, his school, and his steadfast but admiring teachers.

Mr. Barnes, an exacting Latin Scholar, became headmaster of Thacher that fall and became the main correspondent with Arthur Hooper. He was the first to remark upon John’s struggles with Latin yet he offered to Arthur what he termed some “hasty and fallible generalizations” which cause me to wonder if they ring true to family members who knew John more intimately than I. John was, penned Barnes “a young man of great possibility.” Well that has certainly proven true. He was “Brilliant enough.” Clearly the case as it all turns out given John’s many achievements. And we can now hear Mr. Barnes’s rigid school master voice when calls to task what he terms John’s “peculiar sense of humor—which should be somewhat restrained.”

What I would like to know was whether John Hooper’s sense of humor continued to flower or was repressed under the watchful eye of Mr. Barnes, The Victorian?

Within a year, Mr. Barnes was noting that John’s “ability and application were marked.” And by March of 1932, John was described as being one of the School’s most “effective and helpful boys.” High compliments, indeed, from a man who was not known to offer lavish praise.

John’s achievements at Thacher proceeded unabated in a trajectory that pointed towards his later accomplishments at Stanford and Harvard Law School. A Prefect, an A Camper, Varsity Baseball, Bit and Spur, Yearbook Committee, Dramatics Outdoor Committee, and finally The Ruling Committee of Ten, which sounds like something out of Chairman Mao’s regime in China but was, in fact, Thacher’s version of Yale’s Secret Society-- Skull and Bones.  (The Committee of Ten was later squashed by another Thacher Headmaster when this clandestine kind of operation fell out of favor.) In any case, John embraced Thacher School and it, in turn, embraced him.

Apparently there was some debate in the Hooper Family about whether John was better suited for an Eastern Ivy or Stanford.  After some angst, he chose Stanford, which delighted Mr. Barnes and had the side benefit of allowing John to forgo entrance examinations as “Stanford accepted Thacher’s recommendations.” (Oh, for the good old days.)

But Mr. Barnes could not help but proffer his two cents on the topics of east versus west. He wrote to John at the outset of his freshman year at Stanford: “I am glad you are staying west. That temptation to cynicism and mockery is less likely to mislead you for it is my impression that Western Men are more straightforward here.”

There we have it.  Stay west, young man. Grow ramrod straight. Avoid the tomfoolery and mockery so typical of the eastern, shall we say, poison ivies.

And straight John did grow. He was a Western Man, a Californian, and he loved this state and its beauty. Somehow, I think, his grace and integrity are an expression of this western rugged landscape. One cannot help but think here of Wendell Barry who wrote, “Unless you know where you are, you don’t know who you are.” John, it seems to me, knew just where he was and what he was.

I also cannot help but feel when I look at the photo of John Hooper on this program—the hint of a genial but confident smile, the eyes, at once kindly yet experienced, the wrinkles born of long days under the California sun—that here was a man whose honesty and depth and integrity were formed in a dance with this his native land.

I do know that when he was a lad and at Thacher, he and his pals traveled often the steep trails of Los Padres Mountains on horseback while their packhorses trundled along hauling duffle and grub. The call of the backcountry, its deep canyons and crumbling shale outcroppings; the scent of Jeffrey Pines wafting across the top of Reyes Peak; the song of the Sespe River rolling across boulders and riffles with its deep swim holes and cliffs for plunging; the nickering of his horse on the picket line; the curling smoke of a cotton wood campfire – these all left a mark on this boy who became this western man.  
Soon a part of John will return to these mountain haunts of his youth where he gamboled over boulders with his Thacher pals and rode long hours over ridgelines back to his School in the Ojai.

Every time I go back to the Sespe with my own remuda of Thacher Smuts, I will remind them that they are by no means the first to enjoy the secrets of this backcountry, that long generations of Thacher boys and girls have called this country their own.

Among them was a Californian and Thacher Man named John Hooper: a gentleman who was a scholar, a lawyer, a World War II veteran, a devoted family man, an international public servant, a decorated Minister of NATO, a humorist, a philanthropist, and a caring steward of this land and his School.

When they tread these trails, gaze over the soaring vistas, and sit tightly circled with their chums around their campfires while their horses stand stone-still after a long day of rocky trails, they will know that good Thacher men and women have come before them here and drunk in these same spirits, and then ventured into this world and made it a better place.



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Notice of nondiscriminatory policy as to students: The Thacher School admits students of any race, color, national, and ethnic origin to all the rights, privileges, programs, and activities generally accorded or made available to students at the School. It does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national, and ethnic origin in administration of its educational policies, admission policies, scholarship and loan programs, and athletic and other School-administered programs.