There are some teachers who are beloved for being fun, some for being funny, and others for just being tough. As I have heard from the former students of Dick Nunley, he falls squarely in that last camp. According to the guys (recall that Darrow was a boys school in the 1960s), “He made you grow up very quickly.” “He instilled a work ethic, he made you work, and work, and work. No soft As or even soft Bs came from Mr. Nunley. He did not seem to be motivated by his students liking him, but rather by upholding the standards of his discipline.” For that solid core he is remembered, and above all respected.
Several alumni—including lawyers, businessmen, and bankers—credit him with playing an instrumental role in their career development and successes. Many also say he had a strong sense of humor and cared for them. He was generous with his time, spending it as each individual required to help them improve their writing, just not in a warm and fuzzy way.
This sort of teaching is increasingly rare in a world where teachers are taught to project relentless hyper-positivity to their students in virtually all situations, an approach that strikes me as a disservice in some cases. Positivity is important, but so is the truth. Mr. Nunley would never lie to a young man by telling him he could do something he couldn’t, or by inflating his sense of accomplishment just for its own sake. For that, he served as a model of balanced appraisal, because in the end not everyone earns the proverbial gold star.
Darrow was fortunate to have had such an extraordinary educator, who served as a teacher from 1957 to 1970 and as a trustee from 1993 to 2003, retiring from that position just a few years before I arrived on the Mountainside. I wish I’d had the chance to meet Mr. Nunley. If I had, I would have saluted his direct, forthright technique and thanked him for keeping his standards high in the service of true education.
Note: A memorial celebration of Dick Nunley’s life will be held at the Tannery on Saturday, July 30, at 2:00 p.m. If you would like to attend, please RSVP online at svy.mk/1Qc7Ywc or contact Diana at firstname.lastname@example.org.