Russell Weatherspoon

Russell Weatherspoon

“I want to be helpful. Whenever possible, I want to try to bring people together.”

“It took me a long time to get here,” says Russell Weatherspoon ’01, ’03, ’08, ’11 (Hon.); P’92, P’95, P’97, P’01 about the spur-of-the-moment detour he took in the mid-1970s to visit the Exeter campus for the first time. Traveling south on I-93 after a speaking engagement in Rumney, New Hampshire, Weatherspoon saw a sign for the Academy pointing eastward. Assuming the town of Exeter and the school were around the corner, the New Yorker was surprised to find himself still searching some 30 minutes later.

Time is, of course, relative, and what might have felt like an eternity on an endless road was just a short drive to the destination where Weatherspoon would devote a lifetime of service. This summer, he took on his latest role at the Academy: dean of students.

Making his way down Front Street during that initial introduction to Exeter, Weatherspoon was struck by the large trees, lush lawns and brick buildings of the Academy. It was a decade later, returning as an assembly speaker, when he’d discover the caliber of student was every bit as impressive as the campus grounds. Weatherspoon’s presentation, “Romantic Love and the Love of God,” was bookended by Harkness discussions giving him a front-row seat to the Academy’s acclaimed pedagogy.

“That’s when I got very interested to understand what Exeter could possibly be doing that all these students were able to manage conversation in this way — it was stunning,” he says. “After having that experience, I thought, ‘Wow, it would be amazing to be able to get more exposure to this.’”

Weatherspoon wouldn’t have to wait long for that notion to become a reality. In the Assembly Hall audience that day was Instructor in Religion Peter Vorkink, whom Weatherspoon cites as being influential in his hiring as a full-time religion instructor just one year later.

“I actually spent a long time trying to figure out whether or not I could keep pace with whatever it was that Exeter was asking,” Weatherspoon says. “A few months went by before I finally said, ‘OK, let’s do this.’”

In the more than three decades since Weatherspoon first said “yes” to Exeter, he’s compiled an impactful list of credentials as an instructor and administrator. His latest role, dean of students, is the culmination of a career supporting the Exeter community no matter his title.

“I want to be helpful. Whenever possible, I want to try to bring people together. This is a tough time in our society, and the school is just simply part of the larger society. I want to try to continue to inject a degree of calm, so as we go through the number of different conversations we have to have with each other, we continue to feel like we are listening and can be heard.”

In his current position, Weatherspoon brings with him a unique perspective as a father of four alums. “I listened to what Exeter is through those four different lenses,” he says. “So when I look at our students, I’m always thinking about how each of them is having a different experience. They’re having a common experience, but they’re also having a different experience. ... There are obviously basic things about Exeter we’re trying to provide. And yet, from year to year, the tone of the school changes based on the kids who are here, the faculty that are here.”

Weatherspoon’s appointment will take him through the 2022-23 school year, and he says with a smile “there will be no more roles after this one.” And though he does not plan to add to his résumé, he hopes to continue his connection to the school that started as a scenic diversion on that fateful road trip many years ago. “I was thinking when I got here that I would be here for about five years,” he says. “Obviously, 34 years later, something went wrong. But I have known just really remarkable people who are just too numerous to name. Just amazing people.”

— Adam Loyd

Editor's note: This article first appeared in the fall 2021 issue of The Exeter Bulletin.