After a beautiful winter day at Germantown Academy, Chief Operating Officer Tom Taft 1760 casually hangs out his second story window in the iconic Administration Building taking photos of the waning sunlight. One of his favorite days, he would comment to no one in particular, because, to be honest, no one was left in the building.
This June, Taft will hand over his calculator, clean up his colored file folders, hang up his favorite vest, and give up his set of keys to the school he has called his second home for 29 years. He will leave behind almost three decades of Red Books, yearbooks, blueprints, and audit ledgers. The man who oversees all financial and operational activities, including maintenance, auxiliary programs, construction, security, the cleaning crew, and the dining service has built such an incredible resume here in Fort Washington that one might call him “Tom the Builder.”
“It’s unfortunate that the term Renaissance Man has become overused, because Tom Taft is the truest exemplar of its rightful rareness,” said Head of School Rich Schellhas 1760. “Builder, entrepreneur, world-traveler, dancer, polyglot, philosopher, politician, writer, father, grandfather, mentor, humorist, pole vaulter, health nut, serious intellectual – and I haven’t even touched on his actual job at GA yet. Regardless of his fancy title, Tom has always been a teacher first. Whether he is analyzing a student-athlete’s vaulting technique, GA’s budget, a family’s financial need, or a staff member’s quandary, Tom commits his mind, heart, and never-ending energy to the endeavor. He rejoices when others have those light bulb moments which he continuously seeks out in life. With deepest admiration and respect, I can genuinely attest that I have never met another septuagenarian with Tom’s verve, joie de vivre, thirst for knowledge, and youthful excitement when presented with life’s little miracles. It has been a privilege to work with and know him. Tom feels as deeply as he thinks, and his journey is just beginning.”
It seems that journey has come full circle. While a student-athlete at Yale University, Taft worked for a builder making home improvements. He then helped build an addition onto his own parents’ home in Ohio. While training for the Olympic Decathlon, Taft became a teacher in California and then went into finance. He married the two when he moved east to become the Chief Finance Officer at our educational institution in 1992. He has spent the past 29 years building a track (his favorite project), securing GA’s financial position (he likes to remember that when he came to Fort Washington, there was barely enough money for that month’s paychecks), and giving his all in order to make sure every student has a great day at GA.
The relationships Taft has built while at GA are his most precious. From his office of dedicated women to whom he gives all the credit to the members of the Finance and Facilities Committees to the thousands of students who have received financial aid to the student-athletes and alumni in the track and field program to the hundreds of faculty and staff who have roamed the hallways and trails of GA’s 126 acres (“the entire campus is a classroom”), Taft’s motto of always trying to “lead with YES” has proved him a true Patriot – compassionate, honorable, collaborative, independent, and confident – and a true friend.
“I have only worked for two Heads of School, which is very unusual,” said Taft. “Under their leadership, I have been able to do the things I wanted, and I loved the people I worked with. The Board and members of the committees I sit on have been fabulous. I have learned so much from all of them because they are supportive, hard working people with the same goals – make the best use of our facilities and assets as we can in order to do our best for GA students and faculty. And we balanced the budget!”
In his retired life, Taft has plans to, you guessed it, build something. For the past three years he has been thinking and designing and re-thinking and re-designing his dream house. Climate change is a true passion for Taft and he and an architect he met when GA built the new Middle and Upper Schools have finally put the finishing touches to his zero net home in Chalfont. A zero net house generates more energy than it uses and the excitement he exudes is palpable – “A WHOLE HOUSE THAT CAN RUN OFF ITS OWN ENERGY – CAN YOU BELIEVE THAT?!” Taft plans to lay every floorboard, nail every piece of siding, install every window in order to create a super-insulated space that his eight grandchildren will want to visit for many years to come.
While he has a few more months before he has to pack up his office, his megaphone, the hat he has worn as the mayor of fictitious Walden, Michigan during the fourth grade industrial revolution unit, and the art on his walls, Taft will no doubt continue building memories as he watches over Connor Quad from the best view on campus.