The Bright School recognized two graduates for their distinguished careers as heads of independent schools in Chattanooga and another graduate for his volunteer service and involvement as an alumnus to kick off Founder’s Week on Monday.
Spencer McCallie, who graduated from Bright in 1949, and Herb Barks, who graduated in 1945, were presented the Fletcher Bright ‘43 Distinguished Alumnus Award. McCallie was head of McCallie School from 1974-1999, and Barks was head of Baylor School from 1971-1988. They each followed their fathers who also served as heads of their respective schools. This award is given to alumni who have exhibited brilliant and distinguished lifelong work in a significant field of endeavor or service, in this case, education.
John Shearer, who graduated in 1972, was presented the Jack McDonald ‘45 Service Award, which is given to alumni who have contributed significantly to the welfare of Bright School and exemplified the highest standards of the school through selfless devotion to the interests of the school. In the spring, another alumna, Emily Hon ‘86, who has taught at Bright since 1998, also received the service award.
Head of School Kristin Watts presented the awards during a program with fifth graders and guests of the award recipients. McCallie and Shearer told fifth graders about their time at Bright School.
Bright School was located in Fort Wood near the present-day UTC campus when McCallie and Barks were students. In addition, McCallie’s great aunt Margaret Ellen McCallie was the sixth grade teacher for many years, he talked about “Aunt Ellen” and school founder Mary Gardner Bright, whom he knew as “Aunt Mamie” outside school hours.
McCallie compared the Fort Wood school to today’s campus, remarking about how much smaller it was and that it had fewer students in only one class per grade. He said Miss Bright taught reading in her office and that it was a big deal for her to teach a subject. “It made you realize it was important stuff,” McCallie said.
Students today may picture Miss Bright as an elderly woman mostly because her portrait in the school was painted when she was older. But McCallie commented that Miss Bright was only 28 when she founded the school in 1913 and remained head of school until 1961. During that time, the school was mostly known to students as “Bright’s,” McCallie said. “She owned the school as far as we knew,” he said. “You don’t have to wait until you are this age to do something great.”
Barks did not attend the program, but current Head of School Kristin Watts recently visited Barks at his home and relayed some of the comments he had about his days at Bright and about Miss Bright. He remembered spending time with Miss Bright in her office because he was not behaving in class. After graduating from Bright, Barks was invited back to school to speak to the students, and he thought it was funny how Miss Bright introduced him by saying she knew he would one day become a head of school because he spent so much time in the office.
Shearer’s entire time at Bright was at the current location, which opened in 1963. “I loved everything about Bright,” he told the fifth graders. One day, he remembered, a special visitor was at Bright. “Can you guess who it was?” he said. It was Miss Bright, who had retired but remained a part of the school until her death in 1967. “I am one of the youngest graduates who saw Miss Bright at school.”
He told fifth graders about other memorable times such as finishing second in the school spelling bee after missing the word “lieutenant,” winning the 50-yard dash every year, the fourth grade play “Heidi,” watching nature films every Friday morning, and enjoying art and shop classes. He said his favorite class was social studies, which led to his earning a degree in geography, and learning to enjoy writing by using vocabulary words assigned by his sixth grade teacher, Janet Reeve, who attend the program with Shearer and some of his classmates.
After Bright School, McCallie graduated from McCallie School after winning numerous awards as a student and earned his bachelor’s degree at Vanderbilt University. After college, he married and also joined the U.S. Navy, serving four years in the Pacific. He returned to McCallie School as an English teacher in 1963. Later, he was chairman of the English department, director of admissions and associate headmaster. McCallie earned a master’s degree in education from Harvard University in 1965. He was appointed headmaster in 1974.
During McCallie’s time as headmaster, the school grew in enrollment and size. The number of students increased from 649 to 870, and the faculty increased from 57 to 108. The footprint of the school along Dodds Avenue nearly doubled in size, from 45 to more than 100 acres, and donors gave more than $86 million for capital and operations. He is among many educators in his family, including his grandfather Spencer McCallie and great uncle James Park McCallie, the founders of the school; his father, Spencer McCallie Jr., who also was headmaster; and his great aunts Eula Jarnagin and Grace McCallie, who were two of the three founders of GPS.
McCallie has been honored several times by McCallie School: the Alumni Achievement Award, Distinguished Alumnus Award, and naming of the quadrangle in his honor. He has served in leadership capacities for numerous community and educational organizations including the Community Foundation of Greater Chattanooga, Chattanooga Symphony and Opera Association, Community Impact of Chattanooga, Rotary Club of Chattanooga, Headmasters Association and National Association of Independent Schools.
McCallie’s two brothers, Franklin ‘52 and Marshall ‘57, and sister, Helen ‘61, all graduated from Bright School.
After Bright School, Barks graduated from Baylor School and earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of Chattanooga. He also attended Vanderbilt University and the University of Hamburg in Germany and earned his divinity degree from Columbia Seminary. He served as a Presbyterian minister in Shreveport, Louisiana; Los Angeles, and Lynchburg, Virginia, and at First Presbyterian in Chattanooga. Barks taught a year at Westminster School in Atlanta. He became president and headmaster of Baylor in 1971. His father, Herbert Barks Sr.,was headmaster from 1929-64.
During his tenure, Baylor discontinued the military program, admitted the first Black students in 1973 and changed enrollment from all boys to coed in 1985. The fine arts program expanded and a community service program was started. Two more programs he envisioned became reality – the outdoors Walkabout and annual senior trip. He also was known for leading the pep rallies before football games. Barks also saw to making the alumni and development offices major administrative areas of the school. He received a special citation from the Baylor alumni association and the school’s Distinguished Alumnus Award.
After Baylor, Barks served as headmaster of Hammond School in Columbia, South Carolina, from 1989-2006. He helped rebuild Hammond, a K-12 school, boosting its enrollment to one of the largest independent schools in South Carolina. Upon retirement, he moved back to Chattanooga. Barks also is an author of several books, including Walking the Hill, about his memories of Baylor. Barks’ brother, Coleman ‘49, and his son, Dan ‘75, went to Bright.
After graduating from Bright, Shearer graduated from Baylor School, his time there overlapping with Barks as head, and earned his bachelor’s degree in geography from the University of Georgia. He commented that his degree was inspired by the social studies classes at Bright.
He began writing for the former Chattanooga News-Free Press as a feature writer and news reporter in 1984, and while at the paper, he naturally found himself soon drawn to writing an occasional feature story about Bright, including the retirement of his old shop teacher, Aaron Lowe, in 1986, and the 75th anniversary of Bright in 1988, among other topics. He left the Free Press in 1999 and began freelance writing while later getting a master’s in education at UTC.
After teaching social studies two years at Bradley Central High and one at Karns in Knoxville after moving there, he returned to freelance writing as a frequent contributor to the Knoxville News Sentinel. In 2008 he found what he called his true joy in teaching by serving as an adjunct part-time journalism instructor at the University of Tennessee. It is a job he has been able to continue off and on for 15 years — even as a commuter after moving back to Chattanooga in 2017. He has been a freelance contributor to chattanoogan.com and the Mountain Mirror for nearly 25 years. Shearer also has written several local history books and contributed to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Shopper News in Knoxville.
Shearer was honored for his service to the school as an alumnus. He has stayed connected to Bright School by continuing to write feature stories in recent years for both chattanoogan.com and the Mountain Mirror on topics ranging from profiles on the heads of the school to personal reminiscences. He also did a series of stories during the school’s centennial year in 2013 and even reconnected with several former teachers. He has also contributed to the Bright Star magazine. In recent years, he has stayed in touch with classmates and coordinate gatherings, including the Class of 1972’s 50th reunion in 2022. Shearer’s sister, Cathy Shearer Morris, graduated in 1968, as well as his three stepsons Robert Whitelaw ‘85, Chris Whitelaw ‘86 and Ben Whitelaw ‘91.