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John H. Denbigh

President, Packer Institute

Centurion, 1920–1943

Full Name John Halliday Denbigh

Born 17 June 1868 in Leeds, Yorkshire, England

Died 24 July 1943 in Berkeley, California

Buried Woodlawn Cemetery, Bronx, New York

Proposed by George A. Plimpton and Frank L. Babbott

Elected 1 May 1920 at age fifty-one

Century Memorial

Born in Yorkshire, England, and educated in England—he completed his studies at Brasenose College, Oxford—John Halliday Denbigh came to this country at the age of twenty-seven and for forty-three years taught in the secondary schools of this country. “The best teacher I ever had” was the common memory of his pupils, and the praise—there can be few higher—suggests the quality of his career and influence.

He became an American citizen six years after his arrival, yet the traits of an Englishman never deserted him. There was always a reserve in his manner, and neither indignation nor enthusiasm could sweep him off his feet. He was no revolutionary in educational theory. His skill as a teacher rested upon no novelty of approach or any adventitious aid. His mastery of his classes flowed simply and straightforwardly from a mastery of his subject—mathematics—and of himself. His own summary of his philosophy stemmed from a biblical text and ran as follows:

“I believed with unalterable conviction that education could and should be a happy process and with conviction no less unalterable I believed that true education should prove disciplinary in forming habits of concentration and perseverance that would find no satisfaction in slipshod work and partial effort. Great differences in attainment must of course be inevitable but from each the best of which the individual is capable, be he teacher or student, should be demanded if either of them is to realize the thrill of accomplishment. He teaches best who is able to get his pupils to think and to express their thought in words. ‘Let no man despise thy youth,’ is a maxim that has always seemed to me to have deep meaning both for the teacher and the taught. Independent thinking, frankness, fearlessness, tolerance, patience, dignity of behavior, even ordinary politeness, all these things and more are implied in those six words of counsel to young Timothy.”

It was upon the rock of such elemental truth that Denbigh built his long and distinguished service. He taught for several years at Trinity School in this city at the outset of his career; for twenty-one years he was a member of the faculty of Morris High School, serving as principal for the last fourteen years; thence in 1918 he came to Packer Collegiate Institute, Brooklyn, continuing as its head until his resignation in 1938. His leadership of this long-established school for girls was in no wise spectacular; yet his trustees and his associates rank these years as among the most fruitful in its history. His honors were many. His service to secondary education and to his community was constant and varied. A wise and kindly teacher, he lived his years as he would have had his students live theirs.

Geoffrey Parsons
1943 Century Memorials