March 23, 2014

In Service to Their Country - Christchurch and the diverse independent schools of Virginia

My former student at Christchurch School (where I taught 1959-63), Alexander "Sandy" Monroe, CS '60, has written this book, In Service to Their Country. It's a testament to smaller private schools, showing among other things how diverse the independent schools of Virginia are and have been for many years. It also conveys the diversity of students and families who have chosen to attend Christchurch, and pays tribute to the significant number of its graduates who entered uniformed, military service. Some served minimum, required enlistments, others stayed for a full career.

Christchurch was founded by the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia in 1920, thus the school is coming up on its centennial year. It is now boarding and day, is co-ed and takes day students from as far away as the Peninsula and the Northern Neck. See its many faces, activities, incomparable location and place-based academics at:  <>

Sandy describes his coverage of older (WW II) graduates: "I tried to show how Christchurch and service in the uniformed services prepared young people to assume responsibility in later life, a point made by Tom Brokaw." (In Brokaw's "The Greatest Generation," of course.)

Inevitably, there are ties between individuals who appear in “In Service to Their Country” and military installations or bases in the Tidewater area and throughout the United States. That leaves a vast majority of ordinary, civilian alumni who, over the years have attended Christchurch to get a college preparatory education and a solid start in life. 

That group of ordinary alumni includes yours truly, CS class of 1953. I hope media outlets will review “In Service to Their Country” and draw attention to a fine school that has provided educational service to eastern Virginia and the nation for 95 years.

 Sandy Monroe's personal commitment to the Christchurch education model -- which is non-military -- and to the military services of numerous graduates, including Lt. Lewis B. Puller Jr. (CS 1963) and his brother in law, Colonel William H. Dabney (CS 1953), of the U. S. Marine Corps (the latter awarded the Navy Cross). Both are now deceased, and their legacies are preserved in Sandy's book.

Two alumni, Lewis Puller and William Styron (CS 1942), won Pulitzer prizes for their literary efforts, and each conveyed his love for Christchurch and Tidewater Virginia in different types of writing. In recounting the school days of these heros and all alumni at Christchurch, Sandy Monroe extols the school's commitment to its history, traditions and sense of place.

Throughout ten eras of Christchurch's history, alumni of every generation have drawn attention to the influence that the Rappahannock River had in their lives and memories. The below summary captures  other unique aspects of the Christchurch story, as told by Alexander "Sandy" Monroe, CS '60, primarily in the words of the graduates themselves, which Sandy recorded and transcribed as oral history.

In Service to Their Country 

Oral History Highlights the Successes of Christchurch School Alumni 
Who Became Decorated U.S. Military Veterans

Retired U.S. Navy Capt. Alexander “Sandy” Monroe set out to understand why “the path many graduates have chosen is one of service to their country.”

This small school…has provided more than 325 men and women to the uniformed services of the United States, perhaps more than its fair share.

Richmond, VA, (PRWEB), February 11, 2014

On a Virginia hillside overlooking the Rappahannock River at Christchurch School sits a simple granite monument – a monument to honor the preparatory school’s faculty, staff and alumni who have served in the American uniformed services.

Retired Navy Capt. Alexander “Sandy” Monroe recently completed another monument –  In Service to Their Country, Christchurch School and the American Uniformed Services.
The release of Monroe’s book marks the first time a full length non-fiction narrative account has been published on the history of the school, which boasts alumni and veterans like William Styron, famed American author, and U.S. Marine Corps 1st Lt. Lewis Burwell Puller, Jr., a Pulitzer Prize winning author and son of Marine Lt. Gen. Chesty Puller, the most decorated Marine in American history.

“From its early years, and continuing still today, Christchurch has been home to men and women of diligence, accountability, and humble valor, often taking in struggling youths and cultivating in them the values and life skills they’ll need to make their way in the world,” Monroe said. “The path many graduates have chosen is one of service to country.”

Drawing on a series of personal interviews he conducted, and using official military history, Monroe  set out to answer wherein lies the ineffable link between Christchurch School and the American uniformed services? What common vision guides the footfall of those who walk the brick halls of the school, and those who find their callings on U.S. ships, planes, and coastlines, and on distant bases and battlefields? Monroe graduated from Christchurch School in 1960 and was commissioned by the U.S. Navy in 1964,

“This small school…has provided more than 325 men and women to the uniformed services of the United States, perhaps more than its fair share,” said William S. Dudley, the Director of Naval History from 1995 to 2004. “They excelled as leaders who had assimilated the concepts of honor, integrity and discipline by the time they graduated.”

The oral histories Monroe captured focus chiefly on members of the sea services-Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard, but contain a significant number of distinguished veterans of other services. Certain photographs have never before been published.

“This is an inspiring book that illuminates the influence of education in our lives,” said U.S. Navy Capt. Henry J. “Jerry” Hendrix, the present Director of Naval History. “The students of Christchurch School received much more than education over the course of the years they attended; they received inspiration and a sense of the importance of national service and sacrifice for something greater than themselves.”

In Service to Their Country, Christchurch School and the American Uniformed Services is available to purchase through Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Monroe will be available for interviews and book signing events.

Ironically, one of the outstanding graduates of Christchurch School that Retired Navy Capt. Alexander “Sandy” Monroe failed to document was himself, noted David F. Winkler, a retired Naval officer and accomplished author, in his endorsement of Monroe’s book.

“A naval officer with decades of service, Monroe in his efforts on behalf of the Naval History and Heritage Command, has been instrumental in assuring that hundreds of stories of American sailors serving at home and abroad have been preserved for future generations,” wrote Winkler.

Monroe is an honors graduate of Christchurch School who earned his B.A. from the University of Virginia and M.A. from the College of William and Mary. Monroe was commissioned into the U.S. Navy in 1964.

Monroe arrived on board the Naval Station Norfolk-based USS Aucilla, a Fleet Oiler, as Gunnery Officer and underway watch officer just after commissioning. He went on to serve in various commands with the U.S. Navy Reserve.

He deployed to the Arabian Gulf in 1988 during the tanker reflagging operation known as “Earnest Will,” where he completed a special assignment for the Director of Naval History, and also to the Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba in 1992 during humanitarian care operations involving Haitian migrants.

He is the author of official reports on humanitarian care for Haitians and on Department of Defense assistance to civilian law enforcement authorities in the “Drug War.”
As a civilian during his Reserve time, Monroe was employed as a member of the City Manager’s Staff in Richmond, Virginia and was also City Records Manager/Archivist.

Monroe is considering taking on the story of the 1961 hijacking of the SS Santa Maria, a Portuguese liner that had 42 Americans on board, for his next book.

September 23, 2013

"UVa’s New Vision as an Autonomous Public University."

Sept. 13, 2013:

Hello UVa watchers and lovers. 

Janes Bacon at Bacon's Rebellion has provided a succinct discussion of "UVa’s New Vision as an Autonomous Public University." There's much food for thought and discussion. For me one of Bacon's most important considerations is:

Governance reform. Alter the Board of Visitors from its roster of political appointees to members who “meet a defined set of selection criteria focused on their knowledge of an experience with major issues involving higher education (i.e. industry competence), as well as their knowledge of and experience leading and governing large, complex organizations.” While the governor would continue making the appointments, he (or she) might draw from candidates nominated by an “expert selection panel.”

I am convinced that we have a governor, Robert McDonnell, who is at least naive and indiscreet, or at worst dishonest and selfish-acquisitive. More ominously, his Republican would-be successor, Ken Cuccinelli, is equally unreliable as a leader and ill-suited to be choosing leaders (board members) for our state of Virginia-affiliated universities. He has in fact done his best to impede free speech and intellectual freedom at UVa and Va Tech.

Posted: 12 Sep 2013 08:12 AM PDT 
by James A. Bacon
A University of Virginia panel has released a new vision for the state’s preeminent public university to operate more like a private institution: raising tuition, enrolling more out-of-state students and revamping the Board of Visitors selection criteria to include more “professional” board members. The discussions reflected in the document are part of a “brainstorming exercise” as President Teresa Sullivan develops a strategic plan for the university, reports the Washington Post
The details of the new thinking can be found in an April 2013 draft document, “A Defining and Differentiated Vision for UVA as a Unique and Preeminent Public Institution.” The document makes the case that a “new contract” is needed between the university and the Commonwealth of Virginia based on the following values: world-class quality, a premier resident experience, a a comprehensive range of disciplines, knowledge leadership in public service, and strong self-governance. “UVA,” states the vision, “has the opportunity to lead with a new model for excellence in public higher education.” 
The traditional compact between government and public universities appears to be breaking down nationally, the visioning document says. Universities are experiencing significant and sustained cuts in state and federal funding. The division of wealth in society is growing, and the cost of higher education is generating increasing criticism. The IT revolution is impacting knowledge acquisition and online learning, and universities are facing pressure to act as business-oriented, market-driven institutions.  The result is “bureaucratic paralysis, short-term solutions, and reductionist thinking and measures.” 
The document makes the case that UVa is an economic engine, bringing $456 million into the state through out-of-state grants, giving and graduate fellowships. The university is a magnet for the bet and brightest students from other states, and its presence is attractive to companies, like Rolls-Royce, thinking of investing here. Continued investment in UVA is in the best interest of Virginia and its citizens, even those who have no affiliation with the university.
The working group enunciated the following principles:
  1. A new contract with the commonwealth. Transition from a “state-controlled and state-supported” entity to a “state-affiliated” entity, giving the university greater flexibility and management discretion. Among the most notable changes: the same base tuition for in-state and out-of-state students, with possible “discounts” for Virginia residents.
  2. Governance reform. Alter the Board of Visitors from its roster of political appointees to members who “meet a defined set of selection criteria focused on their knowledge of an experience with major issues involving higher education (i.e. industry competence), as well as their knowledge of and experience leading and governing large, complex organizations.” While the governor would continue making the appointments, he (or she) might draw from candidates nominated by an “expert selection panel.”
  3. Increased out-of-state enrollment. Currently, UVa must enroll 70% Virginia residents. Under the new vision, “the enrollment mix would shift to ensure the University’s status as a preeminent national and global university. This shift probably involves a larger portion of non-resident students.”
  4. Ensured access for students with financial need. Donations from the state to provide financial aid for qualified Virginia residents would be gratefully accepted.
  5. Strategic investment in new marked-based initiatives.  “UVa should develop a culture and invest in the infrastructure required to encourage and support revenue-generating program innovation.”
The university also would continue to emphasize its public-service mission and affirm its commitment to a premier residential undergraduate experience.
In conclusion, the document says, “Rather than shedding its commitment as a public university, the proposed new principles allow the University to be both public and professional, managing effectively and efficiently within the new realities of its economic and political environment.”


Pat Robertson's misuse of his organization's tax-exempt status 

New evidence of Pat Robertson's misuse of his organization's tax-exempt status has emerged in "Mission Congo," see below. 
Robertson helped establish the religious right, back when he ran for GOP's Presidential nomination in 1986. He remains a political force and has given big dollar support, esp. to his protege' and Regent U. law graduate, Governor Robert McDonnell, at the base of the GOP in Virginia. Other bizarre, quasi-religious GOP candidates' pronouncements may be found to have Robertson's style-marks on them.)

... the reaction after the world premiere of "Mission Congo," a new documentary directed by Lara Zizic and David Turner that alleges that Virginia Beach televangelist Pat Robertson exploited a 1990s crisis in Rwanda by diverting facilities of his Operation Blessing charity organization to an African diamond mining venture, in which Robertson had holdings.

Let us not forget that Timothy Robertson, son of Pat R., is a member of the UVa Board of Visitors, and that the newly confirmed rector of that board, George K. Martin Esq., is also a member of the Regent U. law school board. I found Mr. Martin responsive to emails last summer when President Sullivan was under attack; however, my several attempts to communicate, civilly and amicably, with Timothy Robertson at his UVa BOV email address were ignored. (I had known Tim R. when I worked at Regent U., 1982-87.)

In my book,  On Scholarship – From An Empty Room at Princeton,  I included a chapter on my experiences at Regent U., a Christian graduate school, where I served from 1982-87. I made every effort to be "fair and balanced," especially in my descriptions of Pat Robertson and the governance of Regent U.; for example:
Pat Robertson founded Regent University in 1977, centered upon his unique, evangelical-charismatic theology. Regent’s vision as stated on its web site is “to provide Christian leadership in transforming society by affirming and teaching principles of truth, justice and love as described in the Holy Scriptures, embodied in the person of Jesus Christ and enabled through the power of the Holy Spirit.” Today, as it was when I worked there in 1982-87, Regent University’s philosophy is narrowly focused upon the theological perceptions of one man: Pat Robertson. In earlier decades at Regent, the academic leadership appeared to be more conventional by including a president and a free-standing board, separate from the CBN television ministry. In 2009 Dr. M. G. "Pat" Robertson 
is listed as President and Chancellor. This suggests that Robertson is closely involved at all levels of operations and governance. Regent University remains “A Different Kind of University,” as I described it back then, now after thirty-two years—apparently in keeping with the wishes of its founder, Pat Robertson. 
Fall 2013 Update: Regent University's president has stepped down, as noted on September 08, 2013:

Dr. Carlos Campo was appointed president in late 2009 and took over in the summer of 2010. The following story ran in the September 8, 2013 issue of The Virginian-Pilot:
Dr. Carlos Campo has stepped down as Regent University's president, less than a month into the school year.
Campo came to Regent in 2008 as a chief academic officer. He was tabbed to succeed Pat Robertson as president in late 2009 and took over in the summer of 2010.
School officials said the decision to leave came from Campo. He wouldn't go into much detail Saturday, saying he'd signed a clause restricting what he could say.

Gerry's final comment:

I am biased regarding Pat Robertson and Regent University, based on my personal experiences in the administration there in 1982-87. As I see it, only those who have been exposed first-hand to the "Pat Robertson Way" will have any inkling of how single-minded and narrowly defined Regent's policies and procedures are. 

In broader terms, Robertson believes he and his followers have the ability to take over the United States and the World, in the name of his conception of Jesus Christ, to which no one else can attain to or gain final understanding. Some of his disciples are touched by this inordinate vision of power, and certain Virginia politicians have aspired to be included in this incredible and dangerous group.

Again, only by first-hand experience is anyone able to know the unlimited vision and aspirations of Pat Robertson.

March 25, 2013

"Whose university is this, anyway?"

Governor McDonnell placed William Goodwin on the UVa board to be a guiding influence. Meanwhile various "sunlight" organizations also have reported him to be a large financial contributor (over half a million dollars) to McDonnell's political activities.

Goodwin, with unilateral behavior similar to Helen Dragas, has proved tobe as much of a distraction from accepted board procedures as has Ms. Dragas. He did not attend the University as an undergraduate, and he shows little respect for UVa's core principles in his comments to the press and in online streaming of BOV meetings. It's hard to believe he runs his own
business that way.

Goodwin is a Virginia Tech grad who later got an MBA at UVa. His counsel would be more appropriate in Blacksburg at his alma mater. Gov. McDonnell holds a law degree from Pat Robertson's Regent U. and he's Robertson's kind
of leader. That's hardly in keeping with Thomas Jefferson's world view. The UVa Founder championed separation of church and state and opposed unilateral, monarchical governance. 

UVa is a university where Jefferson gave
priority to prohibitions against the establishment of religion, just as he did in founding our nation.
Goodwin's comments are difficult for educated people to support. He claims that public access to meetings and Freedom of Information requests are harmful to BOV procedures. He fails to mention that UVa is a public university—one of the best—and its activities are open to public scrutiny.
He has compared his own view of BOV issues to how he deals with his personal marital relationship.

How can a world-class faculty respect a Board member who talks and thinks like that? Thus Gov. McDonnell and his supporters have put both our university and our state in jeopardy; the results will lead to economic losses, not just jokes on TV shows. Who wants to do business in such an atmosphere? Or go to college where these attitudes rule? Whose Virginia is this? Clearly not Jefferson's.

Jefferson often wrote about the University of Virginia as he envisioned it; he wrote in Dec. 1820:
"This institution will be based on the illimitable freedom of the human mind. For here we are not afraid to follow truth wherever it may lead, nor to tolerate any error so long as reason is left free to combat it."
(Feel free to follow it up at:

And Jefferson also wrote, "I hold it that a little rebellion now and then is a good thing, ..." -- Thomas Jefferson to James Madison, Paris, January 30, 1787.

If we believe that Jefferson's University of Virgina is a part of our public heritage, it's time we did something besides accept homilies and platitudes from a governor who is uncommitted to mainstream higher education and from his political appointees. Seems a little rebellion may be a good thing. 


March 19, 2013

[The above appeared as a letter to the editor in the Charlottesville Daily Progress.]

We will "never give up"

Thus it may be upswetting (!) to Wm Goodwin and the rest of the right-wing opponents to free speech on the UVa BOV that there are hundreds of students, faculty and alumni who will "never give up" to their rightwing ilk who would take over Mr. Jefferson's University and turn it into a figment of their own creation. 

This is the sort of thing that this element has been wont to do--often gaining control--once they have infiltrated the governing boards of schools, colleges, churches and political parties, located around our state and nation. The GOP itself is a case in point.

Any and all of us who bother to read a newspaper (not just watch TV) are well aware that stagnation and stalemates afflict our country at many levels--and often have their origins among the right-wing marauders whose agendas are rooted in disasters of a previous age, including the guilt by association of McCarthyism and the civil disorder brought on by low-level murders (including school children) and high-profile assignations (of Presidents and cabinet members).For good doses of widespread courage and flawed human leadership, I recommend "The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill," Volume 3: Defender of the Realm, 1940-1965; research by Wm Manchester, writing by J. Reid. (Amazon for Kindle/iPad in my case.)

October 3, 2012

Here is a link to photos of various Hall of Fame honorees at Christchurch, including Virginia Puller Dabney, widow of Col. William H. Dabney, CCS Class of 1953. Photos are by Scott Blankenship,
Director of Publications, Christchurch School: (804) 758-2306 ext. 158

October 2, 2012

On Scholarship: From an Empty Room at Princeton

List Price: $10.00 

On Scholarship: From an Empty Room 

at Princeton

My book has been published and is available at

On Scholarship: From an Empty Room at Princeton (Volume 1) 

by Gerald L. Cooper (Oct 1, 2012)

On Scholarship: From An Empty Room at Princeton Gerald L. Cooper is a Norfolk resident and Lancaster County native. He had a career in education as an administrator, counselor and teacher in three Virginia prep schools. Christchurch, Blue Ridge and Woodberry Forest. He then headed a North Carolina day school and later directed development at a historically black college: Winston-Salem State University. He ended his career by serving as executive director of Norfolk's Tidewater Scholarship Foundation and ACCESS program, a 501 (c) (3) organization. After retiring in 2000, Cooper assisted former governor Gerald Baliles in starting a college access program in rural Patrick County, west of Martinsville, Va. He then began to write a remembrance of his life and career, titled "On Scholarship: From An Empty Room at Princeton." He includes growing up in rural Lancaster County, Virginia, getting an education in public elementary and private high school. Cooper is a 1953 graduate of Christchurch School, and attended two public colleges: three semesters at William and Mary and then he transferred to the University of Virginia, where he earned BA and MEd degrees. Cooper closes the book with a chapter titled "Leading to Diversity at the University of Virginia," in which he discusses progress in economic and racial diversity at the University, from the time he enrolled there in 1955 until John T. Casteen III ended his twenty-year presidency in 2009. Cooper also describes his work as a development officer and board member in various types of schools, colleges and other nonprofits. Gerald L. Cooper's closing statement: "I hope others will learn from my experiences, starting with losing my father when I was ten and being nurtured by the town of Lancaster Court House. "Folks may read my book and benefit from a slice of real life. For example, there is useful information for students and parents on gaining access to financial aid for college. Also, I give examples of raising funds for various kinds of non-profit organizations and working with a variety of board members. "There are also descriptions of how effective leaders in our state of Virginia have achieved high goals, using unselfish and non-partisan methods. It would be wonderful if we could get back to that unselfish, non-partisan approach here in the Old Dominion in the 21st century. "I'm hopeful for the resurgence of those principles, and it all starts with education. One of the chapters in my book is titled 'Getting an Education, Not the Confederacy,' and that's a good place to start."