A Tribute to Clint Darling

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After 42 years at Catlin Gabel, this iconic teacher has retired

Clint Darling, retired English teacherBy Lily Thayer Derrick

From the Spring 2009 Caller

When Clint Darling, who has been dispensing bons mots and linguistic admonitions in equal measure to Catlin Gabel students for more than (never “over”) 40 years, decided not to return for the coming school year, it was less a surprise than a lightning bolt. In the minds of many of his former students and colleagues, Clint is nearly synonymous with Catlin Gabel. As John Chun ’87 pointed out, “how appropriate it seems that ‘Catlin’ can be anagrammatically viewed as ‘a Clint.’”

Clint started his career at Catlin Gabel in 1967 as a French teacher and head of the foreign language department. He went on to serve as English teacher, interim headmaster, and for 13 years as Upper School head. Most recently he served as head of the English department.

Clint and his wife, Lauren, who taught German and math at Catlin Gabel, originally came to the school for what they thought was a temporary stint on the West Coast: “Lauren and I came to Oregon intending a two-year stay since we were both confirmed ‘Easterners’ and couldn’t imagine living for very long in another part of the country,” Clint said upon the announcement of his retirement in January.

“Portland and the school welcomed and charmed us, and made a place to grow professionally and to raise a family,” he said. Daughter Claire graduated in 1988; Andrea graduated in 1990.

“In those early years Catlin was one of the most spirited and compelling schools in the country. As the school has developed and matured, it has also worked consciously to remain faithful to those fundamental values. I treasure the dozens of colleagues and hundreds of students who have contributed so much of significance to my life,” Clint said. Several of those colleagues and students shared their thoughts and memories of Clint with us for this issue of the Caller. What follows are choice excerpts.

John Chun ’87
Attorney, Seattle

I joined Catlin Gabel in 1983 as a 9th grader. Clint Darling was my English teacher that year. “Darling” seemed a misnomer because, at first, he scared the hell out of me. Also, from my 13-year-old perspective, he was a bit mysterious. Someone told me Clint had spent much of his summer at an apiary.

A very tall guy, Clint sported a goatee, a cowboy hat, and boots to match. The guy was demanding. The Paper Chase has Kingsfield. We had Darling. He drilled us frequently on vocabulary (including “apiary”), sprinkled us with “snowflakes” (pop quizzes on the books we read), pushed us to improve our writing, and marched us through the travails of Winston Smith and Ralph, Jack, and Piggy. He loaded our backpacks with the Oxford Annotated Bible; that brick of a book felt like the weight of the world. My parents wanted me to get good grades and get into college. Yet there was Clint, examining our brains to see whether we had understood the story of the mandrakes.

Clint mixed a terrific enthusiasm into his demanding teaching style. Among other things, he discussed the plights of fictional characters in terms we teenagers could comprehend. He cared deeply that we learned, and he taught like his life depended on it. He’d jump up and down, wave his arms, and raise his voice in approval upon a student’s astute observation. The pedagogical potion worked its magic. At some point during the year, I began to care too. I stayed up late, with my lamp illuminating the thin pages of the brick book, poring over footnotes. If I had to pinpoint a time in my life when I began to welcome the thrill of an intellectual challenge, I would say it was in that 1983-84 school year.

Retired English teacher Clint Darling teaching

Josh Langfus ’11
Member of Clint’s final freshman English class

The strange thing about stepping into Clint’s classroom at the beginning of freshman year was that I’d heard so much about him. Opinions I had heard ranged from “Best English Teacher Ever” to “The Hardest Grader Ever” (which I later found out were not mutually exclusive). I decided that I would form my own opinion, something I think Clint would be proud of. That was one thing that he inspired us to do: think for ourselves.

The truth is Clint taught me a great deal about writing, about history, and more; he had a strange ability to make me feel awful about a paper without discouraging me from trying harder to make it right. The most rewarding part of the class, though, was picking Clint’s brain whenever we got the opportunity. He had the perspective and accumulated knowledge of a man who, it had seemed to us, had done just about everything in the world worth doing, and could tell you about anything else.

Elizabeth Rondthaler Jolley ’76
Community volunteer, Portland

Due mostly to my lack of interest in preparing for my French check-offs, Clint and I had a somewhat rocky relationship. I was often fearful entering his classroom, because I pretty much knew what sort of reception I would get from him as soon as he asked me a question in rapid, fluent French and I stumbled over the response.

Years later, I returned to the school as a parent and Rummage volunteer. At one sale set-up I needed help putting together and arranging three heavy, awkward glass-front cases. I asked Clint for help. He soon appeared in my department with a team of sturdy-looking students, and proceeded to give directions about putting the cases together, which he knew a lot about, and where to place the cases, which he didn’t know about. I stepped in to re-direct, making sure the cases allowed enough space for customers. Clint argued with me about the placement; I stuck to my guns. Clint stopped and looked right at me and said, “You’re not afraid of me anymore, are you?” I laughed and answered “Nope” while the students tried to cover their chuckles.

Jane Platt ’02
New York, New York

Clint Darling told me to go to Wellesley and then take over the world. I didn’t listen to him, and I wish I had.

 Clint Darling in costume in classRon Sobel
Longtime Catlin Gabel Spanish teacher and staffer

I lived with Clint and Lauren in 1971 for the first few months of my life at Catlin Gabel. We have been like family for a long time. He had the most influence as a teacher: he was fun but no nonsense; cynical but not mean. Clint has been one of the most reliable and consistent supporters of the school. He was committed to maintaining a particular standard at the school, and he made sure things got done, even when he might not want to be responsible for doing them. He was Schauff’s right hand man, and then during a difficult period of transition for the school in the early 1980s, he did a very credible job as acting head. A huge part of his legacy was championing a group to act as liaison between the administration and faculty, and his proposal that a faculty member serve on the board of trustees.

In the last 15 years I think we’ve seen a softening of Clint. He was tough and demanding. But he was revered by a lot of people, supported by a lot, appreciated by a lot.

Debbie Ehrman Kaye ’73
Alumni board member and community volunteer, Portland

“You may call me Clint or Mr. Darling, but no one calls me ‘Darling!’”

This was how my French teacher for most of five years first introduced himself to our 8th grade class. He requested—no, exacted—our best, and insisted that excellent grammar accompany our burgeoning appreciation for French literature. Clint was also my C&C advisor for a year. His tutelage enabled me to take advanced coursework at Brown University and to have a successful junior year at the Université de Genève. My self-defined cultural final exam was conversing on the street in Paris with a French university student. I had the grammar and vocabulary, coupled with a Swiss accent, to pursue that discussion for half an hour. She never knew I was an American!

Clint shared his interests with his students. He loved to cook and would bring his crêpe pan to school. When he led a group from Catlin Gabel on an Experiment in International Living trip to France in 1971, we visited not only the museums and other sites one ought to see but also kitchen equipment shops in Paris. I was at loose ends one day, so Clint took me to his favorite restaurant, the historic Le Procope, where he introduced me to escargots and coq au vin. I don’t recall what else we did that day, but the time together helped form the foundation for a lasting friendship. Personifying the longevity of many Catlin Gabel teachers, Clint taught both my sons, Mason Kaye ’04 and Rob Kaye ’07.

John Hamilton
Longtime Catlin Gabel PE teacher and coach

My first year as a teacher at Catlin Gabel, in 1974–75, I was a 23-year-old co-coach of the boys basketball team. At a game in Mt. Angel, some of our kids thought it would be funny to drop their shorts, and were benched for the game. To get back at us, some of the kids deliberately stayed behind in the locker room. We left, thinking we had everyone back on
the bus.

When we got back to school late at night, Clint was waiting for us with Schauff and Bob Ashe. We knew this wasn’t a good sign. Clint asked, “Do you have everybody?” So of course we knew we didn’t. To our surprise, instead of having us drive another two hours to pick up the kids left behind, Clint, Bob, and Schauff—who were great friends—said they would go. That taught us a lesson. If we had gone, we probably would have been so mad at the kids that no one would have learned anything. Our mentors had helped us, and we wouldn’t forget it.

Art Leo
Upper School English teacher

The dry facts of Clint’s extraordinary service to Catlin Gabel cannot begin to express his influence. Some might claim that they learned more from Clint about subjects that were not strictly academic, such as how to respond to questions with additional interrogatives, the reasons why letter grades rarely serve young scholars and frequently inhibit their growth, and that negative reinforcement can help us to kill our verbal tics.

The most important lessons Clint imparted were about living thoughtfully, skeptically, and altruistically, with patience for others, passion, good humor, and self-forgiveness. By asking of us more than we thought ourselves capable, Clint consistently taught us to find inner reserves of intelligence and resilience so that we ultimately learned to expect more of ourselves, especially in the service of others. Through Clint’s example, many of his students and colleagues have learned not simply what the principles in the School Chapter mean, but also how to live Paul’s definition of “caritas.”

Lily Thayer Derrick is Catlin Gabel’s director of alumni.