My First Headmaster

Blog / Produced by The High Calling
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In the early weeks of my new job as a school administrator, I crossed the campus with Headmaster Walter Sorensen. Slender and tall, he wore glasses and was never without a spark in his eye. And he was widely loved. I was about to learn something more about him. As we walked from the chapel back to classes, I observed Mr. S spy a small candy wrapper. Still talking, he bent over, scooped it up, and stuffed it into his pocket. A small thing. Some three weeks later, this time in a hallway, a coat and lunch box appeared in our path. This time Mr. S routinely gathered and placed the items in their cubby.

In the days, weeks, months, years of my tenure at his school, if it wasn’t done, Headmaster Sorensen got it done—pruning bushes, attending Boy Scout banquets, moving pianos. Make no mistake, he did not do other people’s work for them, but no work was beneath him. During one particularly smelly plumbing crisis, our headmaster mopped alongside the janitor.

Headmaster Sorensen seemed to know innately when speech was redundant. Once, irate parents arrived for a conference about their son’s bad behavior, ready to take on the administration. With no hint of anger, Mr. S wordlessly decked the conference table with visual aids: the boy’s duct-tape mallet to bang people on the head . . . his custom blow dart ingeniously fashioned from a ball point pen and push pins. Enough said. Parents and son got the picture and lost their steam.

In Mr. Sorensen, I saw compassion always at the service of good judgment. One young man wanting to impress his friends stole a cordless phone from a group of school carnival prizes. No waffling; Mr. Sorensen expelled him the next day. When a faculty member died, we all witnessed Walter Sorensen’s unashamed tears. Each week, the children watched him serve communion. They also saw him at their volleyball and basketball games. Early in my career, I was privileged to learn that a leader shows up in good times and bad, knows his people, exemplifies compassion in action, and is never above any task.

No matter how small.