A Warm Welcome to Shawnigan's Headmaster Richard ‘Larry’ Lamont and family
A Warm Welcome to Shawnigan's Headmaster Richard ‘Larry’ Lamont and family
Spending time with Larry and Kathini Lamont is an exercise in the value of multiculturalism and the benefits of time spent living and working amidst different cultures and people. It’s clear that their six years at UWC Red Cross Nordic in Norway have not only shaped who they are as individuals and the values they uphold as a family, but has changed their outlook on the world, on education and how they think and act as community leaders.
From the Norwegian concept of friluftsliv, or open-air living, to the Finnish idea of sisu, a notion encompassing strength and perseverance in the face of adversity, the Nordic has made an indelible mark on the Lamont family. Their Scandinavian-born whippets, Ibsen and Fossen, are not the only part of that collection of unique and progressive cultures that have travelled with them to Shawnigan.
Interestingly, neither Shawnigan nor Canada feel to the Lamonts like a step too far removed from their lives at UWC Red Cross Nordic, a diverse, multicultural, humanitarian community located next to the village of Flekke in the Norwegian fjords.
“We see some echoes and symmetry between Norway and Canada. The Nordic region feels closely aligned with Canada in terms of values,” Larry explains. “In many ways, it feels like a natural transition.”
Their professional lives as part of the international United World College family had already brought them to Vancouver Island on several occasions, and they were enjoying a developing friendship group here when the opportunity arose for Larry to apply for the position of Headmaster at Shawnigan.
“It looked like a really exciting brief,” says Larry. “Both the boarding school element, as well as the co-education piece, as those aspects reflected my experience at Marlborough College in the UK, UWC Waterford Kamhlaba in Swaziland and at UWC Red Cross Nordic in Norway. What I read about the philosophy of Shawnigan was deeply attractive: a values-based education and holistic approach, as well as the commitment to access through financial aid. Those aspects helped me make that slight educational philosophical shift to an independent school once again.”
With 18-year-old daughter Phoebe graduating from high school, the timing was right for them to make a move with their younger daughter, 6-year-old Poppy. When they decided to pursue the opportunity at Shawnigan, Larry threw himself enthusiastically into the research process, reading Rough Diamond and immersing himself in the world of Shawnigan in preparation for their visit to campus.
Larry’s extensive career experience leading operationally effective and strategically directed boarding schools, his understanding of the “machinery, madness and magic” of these unique communities, and his acute multicultural and global awareness all stood him in good stead during the selection process.
“I was incredibly fortunate that the search committee and the Board of Governors thought it was the right match,” says Larry. Kathini adds, “I think Larry was very mindful about everything. And we were very excited and incredibly honoured when he was offered the position as Headmaster.”
With the most significant logistical elements of their international move now behind them, the Lamonts are happily settling into life on campus.
For both Larry and Kathini, it is a combination of their prior professional, leadership and community experiences as well as their personal beliefs and passions, that will help inform and guide them in their approaches here at Shawnigan.
“I’ll be throwing down anchors and opening doors,” Kathini explains, noting that she’s keen to focus initially on making a home for the family on campus before widening her scope. “I think I’m going to let my role evolve rather than just jumping in everywhere. Over the course of the next year, I’ll watch how this amazing place is run and how it works, and I’ll see where people need me. I’m very open to ideas.”
Larry, meanwhile, is most looking forward to connecting with the students. A passionate English teacher, he has managed to maintain one class a week over the last six years as Headmaster at UWC Red Cross Nordic. While taking on a class here at Shawnigan isn’t part of his immediate plans, it is a possibility for the future.
“Maintaining that class was a great way to connect me with a subject I love and for the students to see me in that context,” he explains. “It was challenging at times, but it kept me grounded and connected, and I loved every minute of it.”
UWC Red Cross Nordic’s ethos of the “beauty of deliberate diversity” is also something that they will bring with them to Shawnigan. For Kathini, embracing this idea has helped pave the way to a more meaningful and authentic way of being. From receiving UWC Red Cross Nordic campus visitors such as patron Queen Sonja of Norway to interacting and connecting with students from Cambodia, Colombia, Iraq, Nepal and Nicaragua on the Survivors of Conflict program, Larry and Kathini have embraced the richness that comes with diversity and difference, making it not just a professional policy but a fundamental part of their lives.
“I think the most important thing I learned at UWC Red Cross Nordic was humility,” reflects Larry. “It’s such a great life quality. There’s one line in the Norwegian workplace regulations manual that I absolutely loved: that my responsibility as an employer was to ‘maintain the dignity and integrity of all employees.’ That really taught me something. I talked to my leadership team and said that we should really extend this to the students. However they have transgressed, when they come into our offices, we must try our hardest to maintain their dignity and integrity. If we are able to do that, it will make for a stronger community. I also think it’s the Head’s role to see people. Not just faculty, but every single person here who contributes to the success of the community — you have to see everyone and take those opportunities to focus on everyone.”
For Larry, his initial approach to his new role of Headmaster of Shawnigan, is to embrace a thoughtful and intentional process combining listening, learning and reflecting, drawing on prior experience and considering the possibilities.
“A good boarding school has to have those elements of conversation, compassion and community,” he explains. “I don’t think of us as just a five-year production line; it’s about all the interactions between every member of our community, and it’s about training our students to make a positive impact in whatever professional and personal communities they join in their lives. If I was going to take it to a level beyond, I also think that we should be creating the ethical leaders of tomorrow. As a parent, I want Phoebe and Poppy to be happy and live fulfilling lives, but I also want them to be community builders and to make ethically responsible, inclusive decisions. That’s really what I want Shawnigan students to feel at Closing Day and beyond: that the Shawnigan experience equipped them for the world ahead, to make a significant impact in a positive way, in whatever community they join. I can see Shawnigan having that potential.”
Another Scandinavian concept currently making waves around the world is that of lagom, the idea of everything in just the right amount, of balance and of moderation. The word is Swedish but the concept itself is universally Nordic, and represents another facet of the Lamont’s Nordic influence. While Larry has been captured by the magic of Shawnigan, by the School’s history, traditions and legacy, he’s also mindful of balancing this with a focus on the future and the importance of preparing our students for the increasingly diverse and global world that they will enter as independent adults.
“I’m a real traditionalist at heart,” he explains. “I’m a product of classic boarding schools myself, so I have great respect for the traditions that underpin them, but at the same time we can’t be handcuffed entirely to the past—and what we can’t be is a bastion of elitism, which I think is quite dangerous. There’s always room for growth. The landscape of education is forever changing—the question is how does Shawnigan move with those times and strive always to be an exciting, inclusive and relevant place at which to study?”
As the days slowly get shorter and weather hints at the approach of fall, Shawnigan will gear up once again to welcome its students, both new and returning. The start of each school year is always an exciting time, replete with fresh faces, friendships, ideas and goals. What makes this year different is that, for the first time in a number of years, this upcoming school year does not just represent a new start, but also a new beginning.