Keep It Going – Pete
Most of the emails I get from Coach and later teacher, Peter Bragdon end: “Keep it Going – Pete.” Some end: “Stay Young” and occasionally one will end with both.
Fast forward nearly six decades after the events described in The Goal and The Exam. I lured a St. Paul’s form mate, Jos Wiley, from his farm in New Jersey to join me on a road trip to Exeter, NH.
Diversity was not a “thing” in the 1960s but, if it had been, Jos and I would have checked the box. His Christmas wish list included an axe and a crosscut saw. He was Bragdon’s other fave in our form and they often spent afternoons cutting trails through the woods near the cove, scene of The Goal.
We wanted to visit Pete and his wife, Dottie. They have been retired for some time now. The baby who accompanied them when they arrived from Melbourne lives near Philadelphia, has children of his own and is probably asking insightful questions about retirement.
Coach Bragdon lives in his father’s house in Exeter, New Hampshire and I am not sure very much has changed since he moved in. Or even since his father lived there.
We had spent the day touring the Exeter campus, pretty much the gold standard of boarding school excess. We also toured the campus of Governor’s Academy, the school he headed, which is a considerable distance down the financial food chain from the mighty Exeter.
His time at Kent school, between St. Paul’s and Governor’s, must have been a terrific relationship builder because many of the buildings given during his tenure as headmaster at Governor’s were funded by Kent graduates.
It is a bit of a head scratcher to imagine quite what Kent school thought about their rinks and libraries migrating from Connecticut to Northeastern Massachusetts, and a fine one act play could be written about acrimonious phone calls among trustees at the two schools.
No matter. I would only be a spectator in those discussions.
What was clear was that I was far from the only teenager to be impacted by Peter Bragdon. In fact, I was one of the least generous, if the buildings named for him are any guide. The plaques shamelessly touted the Kent origins of the naming level gifts.
Enough of that inchoate contretemps since it is playing out entirely in my head.
After dinner on the last night of the visit, I mentioned the two stories I had written some months before (now The Goal and The Exam) and asked if Peter and Dottie would like to hear them. Peter and I sat in chairs facing each other across a wall-sized fireplace and Dottie made the triangle between us. I opened my laptop and began to read.
There were two problems.
The unedited drafts had been dictated but not proofread or cleaned up. Dictation technology in 2019 is good but still choppy so many sentences required sounding out to determine what the proper words should have been.
I dictate often so, when you are reading my stories or emails, “if in doubt, sound it out.”
Problem two was more an observation then a problem.
Buttoned up WASP standards have changed considerably in the last five or 10 decades. Before then, the reading would have been devoid emotion and delivered through clenched teeth in either “Long Island lockjaw” or Boston’s “cranky Yankee” equivalent. There would have been no pauses for sniffling. WASPs were not (and still aren’t) known for emotion. Fortunately, such lapses are now forgiven. I say fortunately because, in my reading, there were many of them.
Nonetheless, the goal was again scored. The race was again rowed. The reader of an emotional tale is often more choked up then the listeners, but it was close at times.
When I closed the cover of my laptop, Peter added to the tale.
Apparently, I was right. Coaching that team to the championship was a big step for a newly arrived young teacher. The faculty took notice — at least of his coaching skills — a big deal in boarding schools.
After the 1962 game, Peter and Dottie went out for a celebratory dinner in Concord, but they did not return to St. Paul’s afterward. Instead, they continued past the school gate and drove the hour or so to Exeter to report the day’s events to his father, a lifelong boarding school veteran.
He described the scene in the very same room with his father sitting in the chair where Peter sat and the young coach sitting in mine.
A few days later, I received a handwritten letter that ended: “Thank you for charging through the dusk to provide a championship for the Deserving Doormats.”
We had come full circle, which is not a bad run for a pretty meaningless athletic achievement.
I’ll change his signature hyphen to a comma and end this series: Keep it going, Pete. Stay Young.
Peter W Bragdon, December 03, 2019 at 8:12 am said:
Haven has always been a favorite because he has constant enthusiasm — he is willing to lay it on the line over and over — no WASP restraint here — he has constant commitment and courage. Our mutual friend, Jos Wiley, is an original — I wrote Harvard on his behalf, asked Harvard how many prep school candidates wanted a cross-cut saw for an 18th birthday? For those of you who have shared a cross-cut saw with a friend, it takes constant cooperation to make such a saw function — one only pulls, never pushes — Jos and I cut many logs around the pond by the beautiful St. Paul’s campus in order to clear a trail and to make bridges.
When a teacher is 26 and his charges are 16 there is a gap — many years later, when two former students age 73 arrive at our home to be with me at age 83 — Dottie is 81 — we are simply old people gathering to reminisce about the triumphs of youth almost six decades ago. I am so grateful for these continuing friendships.
Haven Pell, December 03, 2019 at 3:14 pm said:
Thanks Pete, Hope you have been able to share some of these stories with others of your friends from your years as an educator.
Richard Meyer, December 03, 2019 at 9:00 am said:
Haven: These columns contain wonderful remembrances. Keep it up.
Haven Pell, December 03, 2019 at 3:12 pm said:
Thank you Richard.
Oakley Brooks, December 03, 2019 at 9:02 am said:
You’re lucky to still have Pete and Dottie to hang with.
My old friend, teacher, and coach from school, Junie O’Brien, died in 2012, and I miss him every day. His wife, Muffin, is still with us, and I sit with her and reminisce on their porch overlooking the Edgartown harbor, often.
Junie was the coach at the Brooks game in 1963 I wrote about, earlier. We hooked up for the first Beanpot game every year from when I started work in Boston in 1968 until the year before Junie died (often joined by Groton teammate and goalie, Warren Cook) — even after we moved to the District of Columbia in 1981.
So many of the Groton family revere Junie, Muffin, and their four kids. And, lucky you for still having Pete and Dottie to visit.
Haven Pell, December 03, 2019 at 3:12 pm said:
Thanks Oakley, you have mentioned him often. These relationships are special.
Mike Brooks, December 03, 2019 at 10:44 am said:
How lucky you were to have Pete as a teacher, coach and mentor. He just got better as he moved on to Kent and Governors. He arrived at Kent inheriting a moribund hockey program that had deteriorated rather dramatically since the undefeated years of the Fryberger brothers and their fiends from Duluth. The school had some good Div I players but no depth to the point where I remember that both defensemen played every minute of the games at the Lawrenceville Tournament (thankfully those games were running time). Pete went to work recruiting families that were attracted to the church orientation of Kent — not just Episcopalians but Irish Catholiics who happened to hone their early skills on the rinks near Boston and Providence. The turnaround was dramatic not only with impressive won-loss records and highly ranked seasons but in the maturity and leadership of his players. And all along there was “Patient Pete” who understood the end game – to produce good hockey players who could play at the next level and also be responsible adults. Kent was so lucky to have Pete there and I am sure that the families at Governors felt the same way. I have had the pleasure of inducting several of Pete’s players into the Kent Athletic Hall of Fame and he has come back to the school to be with his players. After all these years the bonds of respect and friendship are still there. A great story.
Haven Pell, December 03, 2019 at 3:10 pm said:
Mike, I had never heard “Patient Pete.” Thank you. Fortunately he was not recruiting quality hockey players at SPS or my career would have ended even sooner than it did. Never losing sight of the goal of creating responsible adults was most important.
Peter W Bragdon, December 03, 2019 at 4:48 pm said:
Larry Piatelli, a Captain at Kent for two years, at the conclusion of our first season together expressed his frustration over my refusal to yell at the team. I went right home and wrote a long-overdue letter of gratitude to my Exeter coach, Phil Wilson. Phil was patient and calm and I, too, was frustrated by his refusal to let us have it when we fell short, took for granted how intensely we listened to him when he expressed his dismay over our shortcomings. I took for granted that we won the big games when playing for Phil Wilson — for instance, we beat the Harvard Freshmen on our way to beating a very good Andover team my senior year — 1954. My Kent teams probably lost some games to weaker teams that we should have won, but we won the big games. Five times in fourteen years of coaching the Varsity at Kent the final game of the season determined who won the Championship — we won all five games. I did not have to wind up the Kent teams for these contests — had to calm them down and remind them to honor the game and good things would happen. Being calm did not mean I was soft — players were suspended or thrown off the team for violating training rules — and benched for dirty or selfish play. Much of the culture of our Kent teams was formed in the locker room — in conversations before and after practice — I believe a coach should be “First in, last out.” “The Big I” team was easy to coach because the players were so young — they believed anything I told them — I knew they were winners — they just had to buy into this message — and they did. Being with Haven and Jos a few months ago was such a privilege as it is to be with Kent hockey players returning to the campus to be inducted into the Kent Hall of Fame. These days I watch every Ranger hockey game because David Quinn is the coach — I first met him in Cranston, RI, when he was fifteen — admitted him to Kent on the spot — he played three years for Larry Piatelli and was Senior Prefect in 1984 after having taken an oath before the Cross “to serve without fear or favor.”
Mike Brooks is right on target when he mentioned how I used the high church Episcopalian stance of Kent to attract Catholic families: the ’73 Kent team, which won the League Championship for the first time since the Fryberger years in the late 50’s was overwhemingly Roman Catholic — had only one Protestant player. Another aspect of our turn-around included playing a number of college freshmen and JV teams — this gave us an exposure to playing in our own zone — good preparation for the most important League games.
Haven Pell, December 03, 2019 at 6:00 pm said:
Thank you Pete, this has been a wonderful series of stories and comments. I have learned a lot.
Haven Pell, December 05, 2019 at 2:05 pm said:
I am posting this comment on behalf of Jos Wiley, a co-star in the story. He tried to post it himself to no avail. The mighty Pundificator team is looking into that and apologizes for any inconvenience.
To correct the record and make it more unique the reason I was building trails was that I had tired of the mandatory athletics. Thinking it was a waste of useful energy and not something I would ever enjoy since my heart wasn’t in it and I was not that coordinated.
Somehow I got Pete to understand my distaste for sports and my passion for manual labor particularly axemanship
So he worked out a semester of alternate sports in the form of trail building and served as coach
I wasn’t a 99 pound weakling and enjoyed the manliness of logging.
My dream was to become a lumberjack or cowboy.
Also the crosscut saw was a bow saw.
You are right that the two of us were on opposite extremes but both passionate about our chosen sports.