Centennial Celebrations: F. Gorham Brigham, Jr.

Both The Rivers School and its oldest active alumnus, F. Gorham Brigham, Jr, will celebrate their centennial birthdays in 2015. This summer history teacher Dave Burzillo and I had the opportunity to talk with Mr. Brigham, Class of 1933, on a wide range of topics, from his childhood recollections of life at Rivers through a professional life that extended into his 90s.

The open-air philosophy of Mr. Rivers’ Country Day School for Boys was tailor made for someone like Gorham Brigham. Poor health had forced him to spend second grade at home with a tutor after a year at the Chestnut Hill School. His father, a general practitioner, believed the fresh air, daily exercise,and wholesome food Mr. Rivers’ school offered would be beneficial for his son. So Brigham was enrolled in 1924.

“Yes, the open-air classrooms were cold, although by the time I arrived, the teachers had installed heaters near their desks. Couldn’t have the teachers catching cold!” commented Brigham. “Even now, I remember the food as being extremely good.”

Brigham recalled being disappointed that he lived close enough to the campus on Dean Road in Brookline that he had to walk to school, rather than ride each day with Mr. Rivers or one of the other teachers who made the rounds of neighboring town collecting children for school. He rattled off the names of teachers, names which still reverberate at Rivers, like Mr. Sheehan, Mr. Leydon, and Mr. Gallagher who was his adviser on The Current.

He recounted with a mischievous gleam several brushes with discipline in his early years.

“There was a boy in my grade who was misbehaving so I reported him to the teacher. Not only did she discipline him, she punished me for tattling on him,” he said about one incident. “There were boardwalks connecting the various one-room classrooms, and part of my punishment was to ‘walk the boardwalk’ that afternoon.”

Brigham was about to start the 9th grade, when Headmaster Rivers has a serious heart attack.

“My father was Mr. Rivers’ personal physician,” said Brigham. “He advised Mr. Rivers to move to a single level home in a warmer climate if he wanted to prolong his life. It was good advice because after moving to Santa Barbara, Mr. Rivers lived another 19 years. Good for Mr. Rivers, but much to the chagrin of the new headmaster Mr. [Clarence] Allen who had agreed to pay Rivers a pension for life when he assumed leadership of the school. Mr. Allen did a very good job as headmaster, and he had a good faculty behind him.”

As was common in those days, Mr. Brigham went to boarding school (as a day student) for his final years of high school, but later reunited with many of his Rivers classmates as a 1937 Harvard undergraduate and a 1939 Harvard Business School graduate. With his MBA in hand, he began work at Price Waterhouse, only to be called to active duty in 1940 as World War II was unfolding.

“I came home from work one day in September and my mother was crying. I had received a notice saying I had to report the next day,” recalled Brigham. “I spent the next five years on active duty in Washington DC. I met my wife there on a blind date, got married, and had four children, one of whom, Bill, graduated from Rivers in 1964.”

Brigham served on the staff of General George Marshall until 1946 and Marshall personally decorated him with the Legion of Merit. After the war, he returned to the Boston area where he worked for several companies as CFO before moving into financial services at a number of banks including Citizens Bank where he was named senior vice president at the age of 83. In addition to his professional accomplishments, he also co-founded the Carroll School, located first in West Newton, and later in Lincoln, with the goal of providing an academic environment geared toward students with learning disabilities.

“I retired when I turned 90,” he said. “I drove myself to work every day, but I would leave at 4:30 in the morning to avoid rush hour traffic.”

Brigham was honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2009 by the Boston Business Journal for “the legendary professional and mentoring relationships he built over the lunch table.”

The Rivers School wishes F. Gorham Brigham the very best on his 100th birthday in January 2015 and for many years to come.