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In Memory of a Great Man: Dick Whitcomb

The St. Luke’s community mourns the loss of Headmaster Emeritus Richard Whitcomb, who passed away July 6, 2021, at the age of 85. His beloved wife (and former St. Luke’s teacher) Barbara, son Jon '83, and daughter Andrea '83 were at his side when he passed. Dick is also survived by eight adoring grandchildren.

To know Dick was to know a man who changed people’s lives. He was the kind of man who would drive a child to and from school, for months on end, because he knew that child needed St. Luke’s School. When Dick saw a spark in a child, he dedicated himself to fanning that flame. He had a unique ability to help a child step into the person he knew they could be.

During his life, Dick coached, launched, and loved thousands of students. He embraced those in his charge wholeheartedly and without reservation. Long after they graduated from St. Luke’s, Dick and Barbara stayed in close contact with many students, celebrating their accomplishments and milestones and helping to shoulder their disappointments and tragedies. Even in retirement, he continued to serve the school he loved so dearly, making him the embodiment of the St. Luke’s motto: “Enter to learn. Go forth to serve.” 

In 2016, St. Luke’s hosted a celebration that brought together more than 350 members of our extended community to honor Dick and his innumerable contributions to St. Luke’s School. After the event, tributes from alumni, parents of alumni, and faculty were compiled in a book. Below are some of the words shared that capture the magnitude of his spirit and influence.

“I entered SLS at a time in my life when I was focused on how I was a little different than the average kid. Mr. Whitcomb not only made me feel welcome, but he made me feel important.” –Daniel Sachs '91
“...When we walked into your office and saw all the photos of the students hung on your office walls, we knew this was the place for our son. You knew everyone’s name and story. It amazed us!” –Renee Bornstein, Parent '07, '10

“You found something special & unique to celebrate in every student, no matter how difficult. If academics were challenging for a student, then there was art, sports, drama, or special projects to develop. That is what made St. Luke’s so special during your service - every child felt they had unlimited opportunities to explore & thrive & shine.” –Lisa Grunow Towbin, Past Chair of the Board of Trustees, Parent '98, '01

“Under his guidance, I learned about teaching, about working with young people, about helping those around me find their place in the world; and by his example and through his encouragement and support of my efforts, I found my place in the education world.” –Jeff Kress, St. Luke’s 42-year Faculty Member 
“Thank you for shaping generations of young adults to value character and strive for excellence in the classroom and beyond.” –Ariana '03 & Nicholas Baudouin '06

"When Dick took over the School, it was teetering on the edge of bankruptcy. With great determination, hard work, and, most importantly, a genuine love of children, he was not only able to right the ship but also to set it on a very positive new course.” –Bob Salomon '55, Trustee Emeritus

“You provided a Vision when there was none and a Future when it was doubtful. Your Leadership made this school great; your Legacy makes this school endure.” –Kathy Brown DeTour '81

“I will always be thankful for Mr. Whitcomb’s energy, support, stability, and clear love for all of his students. It is what made my years at St. Luke's some of the happiest and most memorable of my life.” –Victoria (Tori) Fairchild '85

After Dick’s retirement in 2002, the St. Luke’s community - led by generous alumni - established the Richard M. Whitcomb Scholarship Endowment to provide need-based scholarships for deserving students who “personify former Headmaster Dick Whitcomb's passion for academic curiosity, strength of character, and co-curricular involvement.” Whitcomb Scholars receive full financial aid for their four years of Upper School. To date, the Scholarship has supported 12 Whitcomb Scholars, including four who are currently enrolled on the Hilltop. Dick loved that scholarship fund, which literally changes lives by giving deserving young people the opportunity to attend St. Luke’s, and he never stopped supporting it.

Head of School Mark Davis shared: “Dick was a passionate and compassionate leader and a once-in-a-lifetime educator.  Happily, to know Dick was also to know his mischievous, irreverent side, which made him even more loveable and relatable. Quite literally, he connected with everyone and wanted to help everyone, including the rookie who succeeded him nineteen years ago, for which I am eternally grateful. Like countless others, I will always love Dick.” 

Following Dick’s passing, St. Luke’s flew the campus flag at half-staff in his memory and honor. Many in the St. Luke’s community join in mourning the loss of this giant in the annals of our school, a true legend who always left you smiling, sometimes because he had made you laugh and always because you knew he had made you a little bit better.

Rest in peace. 
Richard Whitcomb 1935 - 2021

For his obituary and service information, please click here.

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St. Luke’s School is a secular private school in New Canaan, CT for grades 5 through 12 serving 25 towns in Connecticut and New York. Our exceptional academics and diverse co-educational community foster students’ intellectual and ethical development and prepare them for top colleges. St. Luke’s Center for Leadership builds the commitment to serve and the confidence to lead.