Oct. 3, 2016 — The Northfield Mount Hermon community mourns the passing of former headmaster Richard “Dick” Preston Unsworth, who died Sept. 14, 2016, following a long illness. He was 89.
Born in 1927 in Vineland, New Jersey, Unsworth spent most of his life living in Massachusetts, most recently in Needham. A member of the Class of 1945 at The Mount Hermon School for Boys, Unsworth earned a B.A. from Princeton University and a B.D. from the Yale University Divinity School. He was married for 66 years to his high-school sweetheart, Joy Merritt, who was a 1945 graduate of the the Northfield School for Girls. Joy passed away in 2014.
A lifelong advocate for social justice, Unsworth was an active participant in the civil rights movement and was the author of A Portrait of Pacifists, a biography of French pacifists Andre and Magda Trocme. He spent most of his professional life in academia, serving in a variety of posts at Smith College, Dartmouth College, and Berkshire School. From 1980 to 1989 he served as headmaster of NMH, and from 1989 to 1991 he served as president.NMH was deeply important to Richard, not only because this was where he met his wife, but also because it was where he had his first teaching experiences (Bible and English, 1948–50). Unsworth was shaped by and believed in the school's social mission, established by founder Dwight L. Moody and played out in the school's long history of inclusion, internationalism, and egalitarianism.
“Dick was my headmaster when I was a student, and one of my first bosses when I came to work at NMH at the beginning of my career as a young advancement professional,” recalls NMH Chief Advancement Officer Allyson Goodwin ’83. “He was a wise mentor and one of my favorite humans. He had a gentle soul, an intelligent mind, and a warm spirit. It has been a privilege to have remained in touch with him throughout the years.”
Unsworth became headmaster of NMH just nine years after the school became coed through the merger of the Mount Hermon School for Boys and the Northfield School for Girls. In that brief span NMH had been led, without a head, by a system of deans for the first three years, and a succession of four heads (two of them interim) over the next six years. Unsworth brought stability to the post, reinvigorated many of the school’s traditions, and oversaw numerous building renovations.
“All of us who work at NMH even today benefit from the work Richard Unsworth did as head of our school,” says NMH Performing Arts Chair Sheila Heffernon. “He established a culture and understanding that the school is the people who work here, staff and faculty, side by side, and he insisted on equality for everyone. He helped to promote and found the ABC (A Better Chance) Program, and he was a strong proponent of the Upward Bound Program. When I told him recently about the Diversity and Social Justice course that we now require of all sophomores, his eyes filled with tears and he said that he was always proud of ‘his school.’ Dick was a man who lived and acted with humanity and purpose.”
“I first met Dick shortly after my arrival at NMH, and immediately was drawn to him,” says current Head of School Peter Fayroian. “I spent a number of afternoons with him and I was a rapt listener as he shared with me many stories of NMH’s history. Dick also had a remarkable personal history. He was, after all, a Freedom Rider, and stood tall — literally and figuratively — in every movement during that period of time. He was an elegant man, a talented musician and patron of the arts, and immensely intellectual. I'm privileged to follow in his footsteps and to have known him.”
Richard will be buried on Mount Washington in the Berkshires, next to Joy and their daughter Jane, who died in infancy. A memorial service will be held at First Churches of Northampton, 129 Main Street, on Saturday, Dec. 3, at 1 p.m., with a reception to follow. Memorial contributions may be made in lieu of flowers to Needham Congregational Church, Unsworth Memorial Fund, 1154 Great Plain Ave., Needham, MA 02492 or to Northfield Mount Hermon, Richard P. Unsworth Scholarship, 1 Lamplighter Way, Mount Hermon, MA 01354.
A more complete obituary can be found on the website of the Eaton Funeral Home of Needham, MA, which has been entrusted with his care.