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VOL. 9 | NO. 39 | Saturday, September 24, 2016

Ellis Haguewood Enjoying His Final Year as MUS Headmaster

By Michael Waddell

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For Ellis Haguewood, headmaster at Memphis University School (MUS) for the past 22 years, the relationships he has forged with students and colleagues during his 48 years at the school are the things he holds most dear. Haguewood will retire at the end of the school year, marking the end of an era in which MUS has prospered both inside and out of the classroom.

Retiring headmaster Ellis Haguewood on the campus at Memphis University School, where he has served for 48 years as a teacher and administrator.

(Memphis News/Andrew J. Breig)

“Mr. Haguewood personifies the ideal traits of MUS – honor, integrity, scholarship, service, leadership, personal responsibility and gentlemanly conduct,” said Sam Graham, MUS alum and current board president. “He never seeks the limelight, but rather quietly leads by example. Throughout his 48 years at MUS, he has set a high bar for excellence and maintained a dedication to preparing boys for lives of service, integrity and leadership.”

MUS alum, board member and past board chairman Bob Loeb summed up many people’s feelings when he said, “Ellis Haguewood is the consummate gentleman, a man of supreme honesty, compassion and service. His character is manifested in his roles as leader, educator, and friend.”

Haguewood originally became enamored with the idea of being an educator while attending college in the 1960s.

“I had three English teachers that I thought were just unbelievably exciting, motivating and inspiring, and I thought, ‘That’s what I want to do, I want to teach in college,’” said Haguewood, who received a Bachelor of Arts in English from Harding University and a Master of Arts in English from the University of Memphis.

He ended up joining the MUS all-boys school in 1969 as an English instructor and served the school in various capacities for the next 26 years before being named headmaster in 1995 after a nationwide search.

“Obviously, I didn’t know I would stay as I long as I did,” Haguewood joked. “It was just a great place to teach. Not a lot of paperwork, no bureaucracy, no red tape, nobody looking over my shoulder every minute, not a lot of forms to fill out – just teach and select the books that I wanted to teach.

“I think that’s one of the great attractions of the school even today, when faculty come and find how much freedom they have in the classroom.”

A recipient of MUS’s Distinguished Teaching Award, Haguewood also served as director of student activities, dean of students, director of summer school, and as Upper School principal.

“He is – first and foremost – a teacher, and he knows how to teach boys and how to hire teachers who bring out the very best in boys,” Graham said. “He takes his mission seriously, but he also has a quick wit and a dry sense of humor.

His mastery of the English language and uncommon ability to captivate a room with effortless eloquence and wit are rare qualities. Our school has been greatly benefitted by having a headmaster with these skills.”

For many years, Haguewood taught a section of religious classes along with English. After becoming headmaster, he continued for 15 more years teaching Survey of the Old Testament to seventh graders.

At MUS, even administrators are encouraged to teach, “because that’s really what schools are about,” he said.

“It’s encouraging to the faculty to see that people in positions like mine still think of themselves first and foremost as teachers,” Haguewood said. “There’s not a huge gap between administrative types and teaching types.”

Hiring great teachers has been a cornerstone of Haguewood’s philosophy.

“As headmaster I’m proudest of the faculty and staff that I’ve been able to have the responsibility of hiring,” said Haguewood. “And I’m proud that we’ve been consistently improving in every area each year. I think complacency is the biggest enemy of success in any institution or organization.”

Under his leadership, the school’s long list of academic accomplishments includes consistently ranking among the top five schools in the state in the number of National Merit Semifinalists that it produces. The school’s average ACT score over the last five years is 29.

“Our goal is to cultivate service and leadership in the boys and develop well-rounded men of strong moral character,” Haguewood said. “I think the purpose of any school is to produce virtuous people.”

Outside of the classroom, MUS has produced more than four dozen athletic state championships along with numerous runner-up finishes and regional championships during Haguewood’s tenure.

Numerous improvements to the campus have taken place, including construction of the Dunavant Upper School, the Campus Center and the Thomas Amphitheater, plus technological additions such as computer labs, and a robotics lab. He also oversaw the renovation of athletic facilities, including the stadium and track, baseball diamond and grandstand, lacrosse fields, tennis center and multisports building featuring four indoor tennis courts.

The school’s Annual Fund that supports various campus works and operations has increased from $250,000 annually in 1995-96 to $1.3 million today, and its Doors to New Opportunities Campaign has raised $22 million.

“He has led all these efforts, and more, continuously exhibiting the noblest character,” said Norman Thompson, the second-longest tenured faculty member at MUS after Haguewood. “Many of us are grateful also to him as friend and role model.”

In 1972, Thompson was newly hired at MUS and was assigned an office with Haguewood.

“He was a mentor to me; he was instrumental in my decision to make teaching at MUS my career, as it still is 45 years later,” Thompson said.

Graham said a headmaster from a respected peer school in Nashville recently described Haguewood as “the quintessential dean of independent school headmasters in Tennessee.”

He also has a gift for strengthening relationships among MUS students, parents, faculty and alumni.

“His encyclopedic recollection of people and events from decades ago has fostered a culture of strong ties and lasting relationships with our alumni,” Graham said.

A search for Haguewood’s successor has been underway and was recently narrowed down to the top three candidates. An announcement is expected this fall.

“I’m not leaving because I don’t like what I’m doing. I’m not leaving because my health is bad, it isn’t,” Haguewood said. “I’m not leaving because I’m frustrated with anything. I think at a certain point it’s just time to give somebody else a chance to do it.”

He is simply looking forward to spending time with his wife, Peggy, who he met while in junior high at Harding Academy.

They have been married for 48 years.

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