Mr. Harrington: The Noblest Chair

Morgan Gibson, Staff Writer

November 13, 2023

The Noblest Chair, a title reserved for Nobles’ longest-tenured faculty member, has been around for decades under a different name: Senior Master. Classics Faculty Mark Harrington, who has worked on campus for 48 years, currently holds the moniker. Prior to Harrington was Mathematics Faculty Richard Nickerson, who retired in 2022. Dean of Faculty Maura Sullivan said, “After Mr. Nickerson’s retirement two years ago, Mr. Harrington officially took on that title. He is now the person who has been on campus the longest, so he is the Noblest teacher.”

Regarding the name change, Head of School Cathy Hall knew as soon as she took her position that the previous title of “Senior Master” needed to be reformed. “The word master has for centuries been used to refer to a teacher. For example, heads of school were traditionally called “headmasters,” meaning “head teacher.” Of course, there are so many connections between the word “master” and systemic oppression, including slavery, so it felt time to find a better way to capture what we are trying to convey with this important and celebrated role at Nobles.” Hall said. Not only is the idea of “masters” outdated, but the title was not inclusive. Harrington said, “Senior Master is clearly masculine and not gender friendly at all.” The challenge then became what to replace the previous title with. After 5 years, Hall decided upon the Noblest Chair during a meeting with the most senior graduates of the school. “Once you hit your 50th reunion at Nobles, you are considered part of The Noblest, and we invite all members of The Noblest back to campus each year for a special dinner during reunions. The Noblest are our most “tenured” graduates, so the name fit well for our most tenured faculty member.” Hall said.

Over the years, there have been some key changes to the responsibilities of the Noblest Chair. Harrington said, “They [used] to collect money for the United Way. [And] at the Christmas service, at the Episcopal Church in downtown Dedham, the Senior Master would have to read some specific reading.” At present, the position of Noblest Chair only entails speaking in assembly at the beginning of the school year. “It’s an honorary title and position for someone who’s been here a very long time. And obviously given to school,” Sullivan said. Spoken like a true Latin teacher, Harrington shed light on the school motto, Spes Sibi Quisque, and a Henry Wadsworth Longfellow Poem titled Excelsior in his address to the school. 

While there are no formal responsibilities of the Noblest Chair, each teacher fills the role in a unique way. Nickerson was very hands-on in the role, frequently sharing words of wisdom in assembly, while Harrington serves in his own way, leading by example inside and outside of the classroom. 

Harrington arrived at Nobles in 1975 as a Latin Teacher, months before his now wife, Mathematics Faculty Tilesy Harrington. Harrington, who attended Milton Academy and developed a love for Latin throughout high school and college, explained his passion for the language. “It’s kind of a small club, you know, the people, not everybody reads Latin, and not everybody knows Latin. And I kind of like being part of the small part of the world that really likes it. I can enjoy that,” he said. When asked why he remained at Nobles, Harrington joked that he did not like job interviews but also emphasized that he was not in the profession for money. “I’ve never been a person who wanted to make a lot of money. You don’t choose a life of service to get rich,” Harrington said. Early during his time at Nobles, Harrington rose through the ranks, becoming Head Coach of Girls Varsity Hockey and the Classics Department Head relatively quickly. Harrington said that he had “everything that he needed early on” and simply enjoyed the Nobles community and ability to work alongside his best friends. 

On the subject of being the Noblest Chair, Harrington said, “the title seems funny to me, [but] it’s fine. I’m happy to be the Noblest faculty member.” The Noblest Chair is the third chair that Harrington has held during his time at Nobles. In the past, Harrington occupied the Language Department Chair, followed by the Classics Department Chair, to finally holding the Noblest Chair, which is a testament to his impact and contributions to the school. One of Harrington’s students, Val Lane (Class II) said, “I’ve never met someone more passionate about something than Mr. Harrington is about Latin. It’s the one class that I look forward to no matter what.”

(Photo Credit: Ben Heider)

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