In Memoriam: former Head of School Jim Maggart


Courtesy of Richie Mercado

Former Head of School Jim Maggart poses with colleagues, including Richie Mercado, Stobie Whitmore and Skip Lee, at a faculty reception in the mid-1980s.

Richard Zheng, Staff Writer

James “Jim” Maggart, Head of School from 1981 to 1991, passed away last November. Maggart came to St. John’s after serving as Headmaster for Robert College in Istanbul, Turkey, where he also was a basketball coach and started the first girls’ basketball team. Maggart’s three children, Michael, Aylin and Stephanie, also attended St. John’s during his time as Head of School.

Upper School Mathematics Department Chair Martha Childress, who was hired in 1981 by the previous Head of School Thomas Read, recalls her first impression of Maggart.

“He was refined, and he had a nice sense of humor,” Childress said. “You could tell he knew the kind of school we were.” 

During his time at St. John’s, Maggart continued to coach girls’ basketball. Cross country and track and field coach Richie Mercado remembers him for his calming presence at games. 

“He was always the comforting and assuring person,” Mercado said.

Besides helping with coaching, Maggart would also frequently play pickup games with students on Saturday mornings. Childress observed that with his wicked sense of humor and friendly personality, he was known by students for being approachable, whether in the hallways or during extracurriculars. 

Maggart was also one of the first to push for diversifying the St. John’s student body. Coming from an international background, he identified the need to build a less homogenous student body. Although the diversity Maggart envisioned may not have come to fruition during his time at St. John’s, they have been realized today.

“The world’s changed, and so we’ve changed, but we’ve done it in a very thoughtful way,” Childress said. “He paved the way for that to happen.”

According to Childress, Maggart’s greatest strength as Head of School was his ability to simply listen and ensure that others felt that they were being heard.

“Parents and board members come in and say, ‘oh, this is a problem.’ And the more contentious it was, the more he would sit there and listen and hear them out and say, ‘I’m glad you shared it with me,’” Mercado said. “And then they say, ‘well, thank you’ and walk out happy. And that was it.”

Childress particularly remembers Maggart’s aptitude for translating the long-term wishes of the board to  the students and teachers in the classroom and his ability to be a good representative of the teachers to the board, serving as a liaison between the two sides.

Maggart left St. John’s fondly remembered by both students and faculty as a leader, a gentleman and a calming presence. His son Michael also became a math teacher at the School.

“I think very few people would’ve said, ‘I don’t really like him,’” Mercado said. “Maybe you didn’t agree with his decisions, but he seemed like a very likable and supportive person. That’s the thing I remember most.”