Remembering David Forbes (1926–2022)

David Forbes

The phone rang incessantly. “Can you help? We want to start an Episcopal School.” It was the late 80’s and early 90’s. I was NAES Executive Director and we were experiencing a surge in such inquiries and in the growth of our schools.

My next phone call was to David Forbes, the go-to person for school start ups. While I shared NAES practices and philosophy about Episcopal Schools, David’s tour de force went much deeper. As the highly successful founding headmaster of Cathedral School for Boys in San Francisco and St. Paul’s Episcopal Day School in Oakland, David’s experience and commitment went right to the essence of the what and why of Episcopal education. A myriad of obituaries is being written about David’s inspirational and indispensable role in the fundamental ethos of NAES, and rightly so. It was actually David’s vision that captured me as I worked with him over many years.

David’s vision was always ahead of its time. Back in the 70’s he helped NAES formulate the SERMIX report (Social, Economic and Racial Mix) to explore and expose “white flight” as a rationale for opening starting a school. In the 80’s David joined other national church leaders to participate in developing a curriculum that explored “Sexuality: A Divine Gift.” And again, it preceded the school industry’s attention and concern on such matters. For David, the vision of an Episcopal School was that the nature and mission of the school was based on the Church’s teachings of justice and inclusion. Spiritual life was at the heart of the school: in the board room, the chapel, the classrooms, and the playing field. The hot topics of today were at the core of David’s beliefs years ago about educating young people and it includes the life and work of the soul. Inclusion meant diversity and equity for all and justice included advocacy and compassion for those without acknowledgement and support. Erik Erikson, the psychosocial theorist, defines someone like David in the later stages of life as “generative,” one who eagerly generates life from his own abundance and in service for the next generation. I know of no one who exemplified that definition better than David.

What a legacy David Forbes leaves to the history and spiritual life of NAES and Episcopal Schools! I shall always be grateful to him for that as I am for the long and deeply personal relationship we shared. Rest in peace, dear friend, mentor, and colleague.

Ann Gordon is a Former Executive Director of NAES.