David Mallery

Sam Smith- Last May the Review received an email from a reader praising the work the editor and his wife had done in Washington as they prepared to move to Maine. He wrote: “It is so interesting and moving to hear the two of you reflecting on those years, being young and adventurous there at a time when things were so intensely alive and full of promise. So clearly you have nourished that scene for 40 years as well as having been nourished by it.”

Editors get nice letters like that and they get nasty ones, but what was exceptional of about this one was that it was yet another from an 86-year old man who had taught me English at Germantown Friends School in the 1950s and was still egging me on over a half century later. Sadly, however, I won’t be getting any more such letters, however, because David Mallery passed on January 16

Dick Wade, Head, Germantown Friends School – The GFS students in his English classes (1946-59) and the thousands of educators he taught for over 50 years have lost a dear friend and mentor. He will be remembered for his effervescence, his eternal optimism and his ability to be truly present for each person he encountered. . . David taught and directed at Germantown Friends until 1959, when he left on a project traveling around the country to talk to children about the influence of their school experience on their personal values. This exploration led to a career in education from the perspective of observer, investigator, and advisor. Through presentations and workshops he became a leader in independent schools.

Sam Smith, Multitudes – Ed Gordon, David Mallery, and Bob Boynton were the school’s English teachers. Mr. Gordon was the toughest of the lot, a smallish, well-dressed man as defensive of our right to say what we wanted as he was insistent that we say it precisely and clearly. . . We would try to trap him, but it was not easy. One day, one of the students demanded of Mr. Gordon why — given his propensity for free expression — he always wore gray flannel suits. Mr. Gordon said quietly, “It makes it easier to say what I think.”

We knew all about the meaning of gray flannel suits, thanks to Mr. Mallery, who had introduced us to the man in one, and other subversive literature of the 50s such as The Organization Man and Generation of Vipers. Mr. Mallery accomplished with enthusiasm what Mr. Gordon achieved with discipline. I took naturally to the skepticism of the social critics, for I had found much of my world not to my liking but had not realized that one could make a living saying so. And I devoured Ernest Hemingway because his stories were tough and melancholic and he didn’t gush adjectives, metaphors and similes like so many of the writers we were meant to admire. In The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber, he said that some things lose their meaning when they get all mouthed up. I appreciated the way he didn’t use words as much as the way he did.

Several of the bright, proto-literary girls in my class — who tolerated my less intellectual ways as though I were a colorful but unreliable writer to be both valued and pitied — became enthralled with T.S. Eliot and Yeats and spoke about them in ways I did not comprehend. Girls, it was understood, would do anything for the handsome Mallery, leaving even proto-literary boys to bring up the rear.
Still, it was a pleasant rear, for Mr. Mallery usually found something good to say, gave us courage to challenge the world and provided daily evidence that growing up did not have to mean the end of joy. And when that didn’t work, he once walked atop a row of desks to make his point.

He even inspired me to write a play, a maudlin love story involving a foreign correspondent. In his normal red ink, Mr. Mallery wrote:

Intensely interesting, Sam — there is talk here that pierces the mind… You have values and feelings made eloquently articulate.

It being only eleventh grade, I believed him. It was thankfully the last play I ever wrote, but it was one of the moments that confirmed that I wanted to be a writer. (Years later, when this essay appeared in a school publication, Mallery wrote me, “But I was right.”)

In one essay for Mr. Mallery I even took on the mythic figure of William Whyte who had proposed in Fortune placing an employee’s IQ and personality test records, religion, political affiliation, hobbies, type of car and salary all on a single card for use as needed.

It was probably a satire, but I took it seriously and inveighed against the device calling it “the embryo of a police state and a place for a would-be dictator to hang his hat and go to work. . . Once the individual has lost the security of privacy, we are no longer safe from the immediate overthrow of our principles by the ever-waiting demagogue.”. . .

David Mallery called my critique of Whyte a “a good, vigorous and heartening response.” And when I listened to a recording of Arthur Honnegers King David for the first time and asked Mallery, who was about to help stage a performance of the work, where the line between noise and music was, he said simply, “That’s for you to decide.”

On the other hand, my attack on Lillian Smith’s The Journey brought Mr. Mallery out of his ebullience:

Lillian Smith is not a friend of mine, or of my mothers. So it is with no bias that I say your attack on her is tiresome, and inappropriate for this particular job… Since you do haggle over her in the way your do, read her again, after a good dinner. Yours, feeling nailsy, though admiring of Sam.

The author in David Mallery’s English class

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