Featured in Becoming 2020
Wishing Len Wilcox the best for a well-deserved retirement
One morning, some years ago now, Len was making his way to the front of the theatre for an announcement, and as he approached the center of the floor, a low, gently sibilant sound started to accompany his progress. He had come to give a simple reminder of the next chess meet, but by the time he was at last standing, ready to talk, the sound had become the recognizable repetition of a single word, a soft mantra humming through the room: “Chesschesschesschesschesschesschess.” It was the affectionate and playfully respectful recognition of who he was. When he smiled slowly and began to gesture for quiet, the entire Upper School audience erupted in applause and a cheer. This is the kind of gratitude and recognition he had genuinely earned for being the person he has always been: an unpretentious, sanguine, loyal teacher and colleague who has unfalteringly kept the interests and well-being of his students and fellow teachers close to his heart.
With the exception of a four-year hiatus at Kodak in computer work, Len has been at Harley for 47 years and held a range of responsibilities and positions: Upper School math teacher at all levels, computer science teacher, Greek teacher, Upper School advisor, college counseling head, and summer school head. In all of these roles, he has been a tirelessly effective, quiet presence; a steady, illuminating light whose unpretentious luminosity has remained modest and unassuming. He has remained a loyal guardian of the unique and humane ethos of Harley.
If you get there at just the right moment on a weekday morning at Wegmans, East Avenue, you will see him leaving jauntily with a box full of donuts for the faculty room. But there is the Len you may not see unless you get to experience the many sides of his life, his interests, and his talents. All of them inhere in the deceptive simplicity of a remarkable, complex personal constellation. He is an excellent craftsman in wood who makes tables, chests, clocks, and cabinets and is knowledgeable about Wendell Castle, Hans Wegner, and Michael Thonet. He is an expert baker whose sourdough miche has a fine reputation. He is an avid reader whose range encompasses Aldous Huxley, Kingsley Amis, Graham Greene, PG Wodehouse, and Thomas Hardy whose entire oeuvre he has read, sustaining a special love for Jude the Obscure. Recently, he has widened his passion for Japanese films and samurai works with a study of Kurosawa, Mizoguchi, Miyazaki, and Ozu. His highly developed aesthetic sense also reveals itself in his always colorful Brooks Brothers shirts and ties, and his appreciation for the intricate art nouveau designs of William Morris. He has always been a devoted cyclist who owns his own Bottecchia cycle, which he repairs with Compagnolo parts.
To this day, he remains a literate and sophisticated humanist who is also an exact and creative mathematician. In a school that espouses each of us becoming what we are, he seems to have arrived here in 1969 being completely who he is. I will never forget seeing him and riding home with him in his yellow Jeep. Unmatched for his unparalleled and rare contradictions, he leaves a void that no one else will ever fill.
— Alex DeSantis, former faculty from 1971 to 2009