The concept of the St. Paul’s gentleman has long been embedded in our school’s culture. Though a recent poll of older alumni and long-time faculty/friends on its origin produced no Eureka moment, the notion seems to have emerged during the era of Headmaster George Hamilton (1932-1944). His daughter, Mrs. Welby Loane, thinks it carried over from the Episcopal School experiences of Mr. Hamilton and the Rev. Arthur Kinsolving (a faculty member there and Episcopal alumnus, respectively). Former Headmaster Tom Reid also associates it with the Hamilton era, around the same time the honor code started to become a permanent fixture of the school. A 2008 plaque dedicating Hamilton Lawn, to the right of the mansion’s front door, refers to Mr. Hamilton as a “St. Paul’s Gentleman.”
In “A Tribute to George Hamilton,” published in The Spirit of St. Paul’s (1999), Lou Shroyer ’37, relates a story about the influence of the “St. Paul’s Gentleman.” The school’s location in Mt. Washington required students, many of them boarders, to ride the street car downtown (which they did most often to attend services at Old St. Paul’s). Boys occasionally hurled rotten apples from the car windows as they traversed Falls Road through Hampden, behavior that eventually made its way back to Mr. Hamilton, who one day demanded at assembly that those involved report to his office.
Young Lou and a classmate were guilty but knew keeping their mouths shut would keep them out of trouble. But the “on your honor business,” as Lou expressed it, and their respect for Mr. Hamilton, nagged at them, to the point where they went to him and confessed. After staring at them a moment, Mr. Hamilton pronounced sentence: “Consider yourselves expelled from St. Paul’s!”
They were thunderstruck, Lou recalled in his essay, at the price of their honesty, a mere 60 days prior to graduation. But Mr. Hamilton left the door ajar, ever so slightly: “If you two have any hope of graduating from St. Paul’s, you’ll come to campus every Monday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. for the rest of the semester,” he instructed them. “Wear work clothes and get your orders from Mr. Bowles.” (Ernest Bowles was the much beloved, jack-of-all-trades school custodian.)
And so they did: yard work, cleaning out the attic and so forth. This work went on for several weeks, after which Mr. Hamilton “called it off,” Lou remembered. “He commended us on our perfect attendance and said something like ‘now let’s just forget the whole thing—I promise I will!’ He didn’t lecture us.” So Lou Shroyer and his mate collected their diplomas and marched out into their lives.
Many years later, in 1954, Lou was pleasantly surprised to find Mr. Hamilton at his door. He invited his former headmaster in, introduced him to his wife and two toddlers and enjoyed a long chat, about Lou’s family and profession, Mr. Hamilton’s work in insurance and the old days at St. Paul’s. He “was touching base with some of his ‘old boys,’ Lou wrote. “He never mentioned Applegate, and of course I didn’t either. I kept wondering if he had forgotten it like he promised in 1937.” That incident had nearly ended Lou’s time at St. Paul’s, and expulsion would likely have dashed his academic scholarship at Washington & Lee.
Those young Crusaders in 1937 chose to live by their school’s values, expressed in today’s St. Paul’s motto, “seek truth, honor and excellence; live by faith, compassion and integrity.” The student sought truth and honor regardless of risk; the headmaster found compassion where others would not. And each had faith in the other.
Mr. Hamilton died in 1985. Lou Shroyer ’37 resides in an assisted-living residence in Florida.