One of St. George’s most beloved, long-serving faculty members, former Head of Instructional Services Emerita Beth S. Horton P’79, ’85, died on Aug. 4, 2019. She had celebrated her 85th birthday in July.
During her 25 years at St. George’s (1975-1999), Ms. Horton tutored hundreds of students, many of whom went on to prestigious careers and many of whom kept in touch with her — sharing their difficulties and successes long past Prize Day. Indeed, even in her retirement years Ms. Horton took great delight in the strong bonds she developed here on the Hilltop.
Ms. Horton made an indelible mark at St. George’s through her tireless support of students who learn differently or who face academic challenges. She is the esteemed namesake of our Horton Center for Learning, as well as the Beth Horton Endowment for Instructional Services, which was established upon her retirement. Because of the generous support of scores of donors in honor of Ms. Horton, the endowment now funds a faculty teaching chair, as well as free and open access to academic coaching services for all students.
Several of Ms. Horton’s former students said she helped them successfully navigate the academic — and social — challenges of high school.
Celebrated author David Gilbert ’86, P’20 called Ms. Horton “the patron saint of desperate students” in a letter to Assistant Head of School for External Affairs emeritus Joe Gould at the establishment of the instructional services endowment.
“I always looked forward to our meetings knowing I could speak with impunity about the slights and scorns of boarding school life,” he wrote. “Her encouragement and humor and humanity always left me cheered.”
Lois Harrison ’82 said Ms. Horton always offered a safe haven. "Beth had the unique skill of being a student's ally — as well as a parental guide,” she wrote.
And Carol Anne Riddell ’84 called Ms. Horton “a loving, steady presence in the turbulent world of teenagers — a devoted ally, a witty friend and, when necessary, my firm reminder to get it together!”
Ms. Horton was a pioneer in the field of academic support, championing students with learning differences even before research popularized the need for educators to pay close attention to “learning styles” in their classrooms. She grew the instructional services department — called the Language Training Program when she inherited it in 1975 — from a part-time set of tutors who met with 20-25 students per year, to two full-time faculty members who met with 100 students per year at the time of her retirement.
Her close colleague at the time, Linda B. Cari, Beth Horton Chair in Instructional Services and Head of Instructional Services Emerita, said, “Beth made my St. George's experience a profoundly positive one. We worked together for years without one disagreement or rough spot, and we have remained friends ever since. Beth truly loved the school and her students. When I visited her at her home last year, she showed me a closet filled with files and letters from her former students.”
Even some of Ms. Horton’s closest friends, however, did not know the deeply personal reasons she came to have such compassion for struggling learners. She hadn’t told many about the difficult medical recovery she had after a 40-foot fall off a cliff in Cape Elizabeth, Maine, when she was a junior in high school. The mental repercussions of the fall were far more severe than the physical ones, she said.
Ms. Horton herself described the incident in a 2011 St. George’s Bulletin magazine article. “I lost my ability to read,” she recalled. “I could only concentrate on a word at a time and I could gradually master a phrase … and finally I could read and remember a sentence …
“When I returned to school I had the first experience that everything was in Greek, like a dyslexic must have. It was very humbling.”
In her later teaching years, her compassion and kindness were clear to her students.
“Her smile lit up a room and she always reached out with a hug during our conversations,” said Elena Kissel ’77. “I know several members of the Class of 1977 who said that they would never have graduated without the guidance and dedication of Beth Horton.”
Stewart Steffey ’97, now a Spanish Teacher and coach at Belmont Hill School, called Ms. Horton an “amazing lady who made such a difference in my life. She so seamlessly gave confidence and voice to those — like me — who struggled mightily in high school.”
It’s probably safe to say many of those who spent personal time with Ms. Horton are in possession of a small notecard with many lines of gratitude written in her tiny, meticulous cursive script.
She was at once “old school” and “progressive” – ever cordial in her social graces and ever-vigilant about crusading for the causes in which she believed deeply, including gender equality.
“Beth Horton’s place in the pantheon of St. George’s greats was long ago secured,” wrote Director of College Counseling and Head of the Department of English Emeritus Gary Cornog. “A teacher and mentor whose kindness, understanding, support, and instruction earned her the devotion of a generation of students, she is deservedly honored through the school’s creation of the Horton Center for Learning—a vital engine of the school’s curricular creativity and student support.”
Ms. Horton is survived by her daughter, Alison Horton of New Canaan, Connecticut; her son, Schuyler Horton, and daughter-in-law Juliette Horton of Guilford, Connecticut; four grandchildren; her sister, Robyn Helmer of Greenwich, Connecticut; and a niece, two nephews, and their families. At her request, services were to be private.
"Another great one has passed,” said Peter Collins ’85. “Heaven has better grammar now."