Memorial Minute

Michael Francis Drummey


Appointed Woodbridge Odlin Professor of English (1998). Recipient of the Brown Family Award for Excellence in Teaching (1995)

Michael Francis Drummey was born on June 21, 1937, in Newburyport, Massachusetts, and was brought up in North Andover. He attended the Brooks School, where his skills on the basketball court and baseball field earned him recognition as the school’s “Athlete of the 50s.” He went on to serve in the army before attending Harvard University, class of ’62, earning a BA in English. At Harvard, too, Michael was a force on the baseball field, winning the Charles H. Blair Bat, annually awarded to the leading batsman in the Eastern Intercollegiate Baseball League. His love of literature led him to the Middlebury Bread Loaf School, where he earned his MA in English.

Michael began his teaching career at the Holderness School. There, among longtime friends, he and his wife, Adrienne, were married in 1982. Combined, they had five children: Michael was father to Kelly and Katherine (Katie); Adrienne, mother to Julie ’84, David ’86 and Nadine. Michael was appointed to Exeter as instructor of English in 1969 and taught until his retirement in 2001 — though he continued to teach part-time until 2006.

He was dorm head of Soule Hall, a dorm parent in Webster North, and a resident of Gould House; he served on the Agenda Committee, the Appointments and Leaves Committee, worked in the Admissions and Financial Aid offices, and was a member of the Discipline Committee and Committee on Faculty Affairs. He led students on the Stratford program (fall 1996) and SYA France (1979-1980). He received a Brown Family Award for Excellence in Teaching in 1995 and was appointed Woodbridge Odlin Professor of English in 1998. A fiercely competitive athlete even in adulthood, Michael coached Academy sports for 32 years, his assignments including JV football, JV baseball, girls JV hockey and club tennis. According to fellow coach Dick Brown, he “made games fun and practices entertaining. On a rainy day with soggy fields, when other coaches would call off practice, we would have sliding practice. We would get muddy and soaked, loving every minute. And afterwards we were never apprehensive about stealing second base with a beautiful slide. Whether hearing ‘Motorcycle Mike’ roar into a campus parking lot, or playing tennis with him, or listening to his commentary during a hockey game, Mike made life fun.”

By contrast, Mr. Drummey is remembered by former students as a “very tough” English teacher — “In his class, I fondly remember chalk or an eraser flying through the air at me for a wrong answer” (Andrew Susskind ’76) — but also as a “difference maker” in the lives of his students. One wrote, “I still keep a letter he wrote me in 1971, admonishing me for my conduct but encouraging me with what he saw as ‘potential’ for the person he thought I could become. I still keep it folded inside my paperback copy of Macbeth” (Mike Lynch ’72). And another: “I will always feel grateful for the kindness Mr. Drummey showed me during my fall from grace at Exeter in January of 1971. The night after the Principal removed me as President of the school newspaper and the Dean told me that I might be thrown out of the school for insubordination ‘and not a single faculty member will vote to keep you in,’ Mr. Drummey invited me to go for a ride with him. I’m sure it was against the rules for him to do it, and it kept me out of the dorm long after I was supposed to be in. I don’t remember anything he or I said, but I remember him driving to Hampton Beach on that cold winter night and letting me know without saying it that he cared about me and that he knew that what the school was doing to me was wrong” (Will Hunter ‘71). And the following tribute, the sort that warms every teacher’s heart: “[Mr. Drummey] always encouraged this struggling student by saying that I would make a great teacher. I have been teaching for 16 years now and think of those words every day” (Libby Houghton ‘93). In sum, “He was a tough but fair instructor who expected nothing less than one’s finest effort. And that’s what students delivered for him.” (Liz Kopp, SYA France ’80).

Mike (as many of us knew him) is missed by his former colleagues in the English Department, who remember him as gruff, witty, curmudgeonly, hilarious. Doug Rogers, a close friend for over forty years, shared these thoughts: “Before there was Uber, there was Mike Drummey: Mike loved to drive, loved to chauffer his friends. Flying out of Logan? What time’s your flight? 7 a.m. I’ll be in your driveway at 4:30. Ever reliable. Always the good friend.” On one of their shared pastimes, Doug recalls: “Michael loved golf, loved getting out on a summer’s afternoon with friends, loved walking the course, loved the fiendish difficulty of striking that little white ball, loved drinking cold glasses of beer at the end of the round. There is magic in golf. Out on the course, we turned back time, discovered again the days of our youth. Though grown men in our thirties or forties, or sixties or seventies, we felt the joy we had known in high school or college sports. We had nicknames: Peter Greer was Pete or Petey; Joe Ganem was Guisseppe; Ron Lindquist was Ronzo; Peter Grogan was Grogs; Jack Herney was Herns; Eric Bergofsky was Bergo. I was Doog or Doogie. Michael was Mick or Mickey or Mickey Doodle. Good shots were met with shouts of ‘Good shot!’ Great shots brought applause. Usually, we played matches, dividing our foursomes into pairs, and stroking off the best player. These were friendly affairs, the wagers always modest and typically covering beers at the end of the round. That’s not to say, however, that we weren’t competitive. In the early holes, for example, we were often generous, giving our opponents short putts. ‘Close enough,’ we’d say. But later in the round — particularly if the match were tight — we might not be quite so generous. Mickey liked to say with a bit of a smile, ‘It will only take a few seconds to see that putt!’”

Michelle Dionne remembers similar times: “I played a lot of twilight (i.e. cheap rate) golf with Mike, who always pretended he was no good and over the hill and of course knocked the five-iron eight feet from the pin every time. He was master of the humble psych-out. When Mike retired he gave me his Dostoevsky collection and a fat folder full of his college recs. To this day I steal lines from those unbelievably funny, unique letters.”

Mercy Carbonell remembers “the way he greeted me in the hallways when I was first here [as an intern], so young and intimidated, always calling me by my formal name. ‘Mercedes,’ he would say, shuffling past with a walk that registered his baseball days, a slight twinkle in his eye. Often, he was holding a book or a paper, about to wander into a colleague’s room to share or gently fume or celebrate. He would look up, say my name and then carry on. Sometimes, he would linger, inviting conversation by simply quoting a passage or offering an utterance born from a previous conversation. He could be abrupt, harsh even. ‘No,’ he would say. He had his mind made up. He gave the impression that he had stopped listening when he felt as if what he was hearing was not what he agreed with . . . He might not quite believe that I always deeply admired him.”

Becky Moore recalls, “He always wanted us to remember to hold students to high standards — a notorious ‘hard grader’ voice; however, I remember Michael most for the day hesmade perhaps one of the only comments I heard him make in faculty meeting. He spoke up to support keeping a student on the academic borderline. With unusual directness Michaels said, ‘He may go home and get shot. Let’s remember what some people actually need from this place.’ A serious silence followed. The faculty voted to have the student remain. In these COVID-19 days, Michael would no doubt be grousing about the technology that we have to use — but he would also be quite aware of our students who live on the margins of access to resources of tech and space as we try to run school this way.”

Former Drama and English instructor Sarah Ream ‘75 recalls: “Michael Drummey wasmy 10th-grade English teacher. He was indeed a tough grader. A very tough grader. A ‘C’, in those days, was an act of mercy. When I came back and started teaching English here, my first assigned classroom was a shared one with Mike. It was a little unnerving teaching Hamlet to an A-Format group of sleepy seniors in the classroom where I, too, had trudged through Shakespeare years before. But Mike also had an impish sense of humor. One day I walked into my classroom to see Mike at his desk with a crowd of my students huddled around him. He was holding an old and tattered gradebook. He looked up, saw me, and grinned. ‘I’m just showing your students the grades you got in my class.”’

Former English Instructor Alex Myers ‘95 writes: “I was lucky enough to have Mr. Drummey for two terms in my upper year. I also enjoyed him as my hockey coach. He played with an old wooden stick, no bend to the blade, and could land a wicked slapshot (I was the goalie, and he was often tasked with warming me up). I think I shared one of the most peculiar intimacies with him: we had hockey practice out on the river one day and he and I skated off at the end of the practice. It was a gorgeous, freezing day. We hit a bend in the river and the ice was black, almost invisible. He stopped me and reached out with his stick to tap the ice. Just a little tap and water spurted up. We shuffled away and skated back the way we had come; we were almost back at the wide spot where the teams were practicing when we saw [another English instructor] Mr. Valhouli setting out for some skating of his own. Mr. Drummey told him to watch it, that the ice was awfully thin on the bends. Then we sat on the bank and untied our skates. Mr. Valhouli fell through the ice and drowned that afternoon. The next morning, having not yet heard the news, I went to Mr. Drummey’s classroom for English. He told me what had happened and then he gave me a hard stare and asked me, ‘Why wasn’t it us?’ I didn’t have an answer then, and I still don’t have one now.”

Michael Drummey set out on his own final journey on April 12, 2020, after a well fought battle with Parkinson’s Disease. He died at his home in Exeter with his devoted wife and best friend, Adrienne, by his side. Survivors include his four sisters — Patricia Skeirik, Geraldine Belanger, Janet Cahill and Sally Bryan — his children, stepchildren and grandchildren.

Images and memories remain. “When he retired,” writes Mercy Carbonell, “I was assigned his basement classroom. He wrote me a hand-written note to say he was leaving everything there. There was a tall wall of bookshelves with all of the ‘department’ books on them — dusty, hard-bound collections of Faulkner, Shakespeare, encyclopedias, Norton anthologies, Oxford English Dictionaries — all eventually lost in the flood of 2006. In the window sills were cardboard boxes of files, papers, recommendation letters, other writings and musings (often done on typewriter or in his scrawl). I found small newspaper cutouts, cartoons from the New Yorker, lines of poetry he loved, lovely definitions of the art of a semi-colon. His wit and sensitivity, his vulnerability and his patience — his joy, too: all in these curious pieces he left behind.”

“Colleague, partner, friend, and most of all, teacher: Michael loved the beauty of a well-turned phrase, loved to teach Catch 22 and All the King’s Men. Loved poetry, loved committing lines to memory, loved Shakespeare. And more than anything else loved teaching kids, opening doors, never knowing what might lie on the other side but happy to engage in the discovery.” (Doug Rogers) Appreciation is the quality one colleague returned to. “Michael’s appreciation for precision, for the small things, for meaning.

“A poem tacked on an old cork board.
“A yellowing newspaper clipping taped nearby.
“The way a baseball arcs through the April rain.”

With gratitude to Doug Rogers for his good counsel and contributions, and to Michael’s former students and colleagues for the use of their words. This Memorial Minute I move be submitted to Michael’s wife, Adrienne, and be spread upon the minutes of the faculty.

Respectfully submitted,

Todd Hearon, instructor in English

These remarks were presented to the faculty at its meeting of November 14, 2022