The Return of Dr. No


noffsingerNo, this does not have anything to do with the first arch-villain brought down by James Bond.  This is about a visit paid by Dr. John Noffsinger and his wife, Mary, to our campus last Monday.  At the behest of John Tucker, John had been in the Outer Banks speaking to folks on the topic of “Women in the Fiction of Charles Dickens” the preceding day.  It was only a minor detour for him and Mary to swing by school for a tour and to meet old acquaintances.

You see, Dr. Noffsinger (known by the Bond-villain nickname by his students) taught English here and acted as Chairman of the English Department from 1990 to 2000.  As such, he continued the legacy of the great Arthur MacConochie and turned the reins over to the equally great David Kidd.  Over that decade he and I became fast friends – in fact, he would later act as the official editor of my book, Norfolk’s Academy – the Heart of Tidewater. Nothing else I have published in the intervening 12 years has been without his thoughtful and always helpful edits.

As I toured him around almost every corner of our campus, we kept running into old friends of his from the last century.  Here was Tom Duquette, with whom he team-Noffsinger 20001taught a senior English semester course. There was Elbert Watson, who chose music and choreographed several of John’s favorite musical pieces.  And over there was Kathy Warn, who taught John and Mary’s daughter in the third grade.  Even more heartwarming were the exchanges with former students of his who have returned to teach here, most notably Charlotte (Hudgins) Zito and Mike Duquette, both of whom shared their accomplishments, photos of their children, and laughing recollections of days gone by.

I tried to give him as much space as I could for each of these conversations. As one followed another I began to appreciate anew the continuity of this place.  Dr. No, as the morning ended, remarked with satisfaction how pleasantly surprised he was to have run into so many people he remembered.  The stark contrast between the emergence of sparkling new, cutting-edge buildings and the enduring warmth of old familiar handshakes and hugs was profound.  This school really can transform itself while retaining its original mission and, well, soul.  “The stuff of school hasn’t changed much,” I had assured him. Two hours of catching up with old colleagues utterly without awkwardness proved me correct.

At one point we were sitting by the faculty buffet in the Youngkin refectory with Mike Duquette, looking towards the beautiful expanded space at the far end.  Also in our field of vision were a group of middle-school faculty members who have taken to catching a snack together at morning break while discussing issues of the day, usually but not always school-related.  I am normally a part of this group, which styles itself the “Sandwich Club” after the classic 1980’s film of similar name. At any rate, there they were, many of an age to have young children and at the point in their careers where they have committed fully to this profession, and if we are lucky enough, to this school.  Again I thought here is the old in the midst of the new.

There sat Glassman and Borum and Merklin and Moore and Gibson, all part of the next great generation of Academy faculty. The legends who brought me into this place to stay are gone, and it won’t be but so long until my generation has moved on as well. But with the Sandwich Club members and the dozens of others like them here that are preparing to take our place, I am absolutely certain that the school and its students will be just fine. What they are building together, with the love of children and the passion for teaching and coaching, is every bit as fundamental as what we are building with steel and glass.

Nice to see you, Dr. Noffsinger.  Thanks for reminding me of what is so good about this place.

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