Groton School is mourning the loss of its longest-serving faculty member—a teacher and scholar who influenced the lives of generations of students.
Leyland Hugh Sackett, who spent sixty-three years at Groton and taught until just a few years ago, passed away after a long illness on April 12, 2020, at age 91.
Letters poured in after Groton School’s extended community learned of the loss: “A gentle, brilliant, and inclusive man.” “A true inspiration, role model, imparter of knowledge, and friend.” “Loved and revered.”
Mr. Sackett’s legacy extends beyond his own accomplishments as a teacher, classicist, and archaeological scholar to those of the students he inspired in his classes at Groton. His two professional lives—teaching Latin, Greek, and archaeology at Groton and conducting archaeological field work in Greece—overlapped, to the enormous benefit of Groton students. A recognized authority on Bronze Age Greece, Mr. Sackett often took students and alumni with him on excavations to Greece—memorable trips of archaeology, cultural immersion, and adventure.
Notably, Mr. Sackett—an internationally recognized scholar who conducted field work throughout Greece with the British School at Athens
, wrote landmark books and articles, and received the Archaeological Institute of America’s Gold Medal for Distinguished Archaeological Achievement—was also a beloved teacher, dorm head, and coach. And he nurtured Groton students at all levels. “In his calm, patient way, he would encourage those students for whom Latin was a challenge and challenge those for whom it was not,” wrote Bill Polk ’58, Groton’s headmaster from 1978 to 2003 and a former student of Mr. Sackett’s, in the 2018 spring Groton School Quarterly
It is because of Mr. Sackett that many Grotonians pursued careers as classicists and archeologists, including Sean Hemingway ‘85, the head of Greek and Roman Art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art; Jennifer Stager ’96, professor of art history at Johns Hopkins; Andres Reyes '80, Groton faculty member; Patrick Saltonstall '84, curator of archaeology at Alaska's Alutiiq Museum; Stacy Symonds '84, board president for Mexico's Museo Nacional de Antropología; archaeological scientists Allison Siegenthaler '03 and Hannah Wellman '08; and archaeologists including Timothy Cunningham ’84, Stuart Thorne ’67, and Jonathan Lothrop ’75.
Mr. Sackett loved Groton School and took pride in having worked with seven of Groton’s eight headmasters. Headmaster Temba Maqubela remembers Hugh and his wife Eleanor as supportive friends, the first couple they invited to dinner after arriving at Groton. They shared many dinners thereafter, and meals at the Sackett home always opened with a prayer by Hugh, delivered in Latin. “I think I was really acculturated into Groton’s ways by Hugh,” Mr. Maqubela said. “He was one of the finest true gentlemen I have ever met.”
Dr. Reyes, who was Mr. Sackett’s advisee at Groton (and for four decades after), said that this elder statesman of Groton Classics attended end-of-term archaeology dinners with students even after he stopped classroom teaching. “His final appearance at these dinners was last November, when he was delighted to see that one of the pupils had prepared a virtual reconstruction of the Heroon at Lefkandi in Euboea, which Hugh had himself excavated,” Dr. Reyes said. “Sadly, he was too ill to attend our most recent archaeological dinner last March, but Eleanor came as normal, and she was able to pass on Hugh's good wishes. Even when not well, he still thought and cared about everyone at the school. That was simply his way.”
In a tribute to Mr. Sackett upon his retirement, Dr. Reyes shed light on his mentor’s archaeological achievements, writing in the Groton School Quarterly: “The reputation of any archaeologist would be considered remarkable enough for the discovery of only one monument or object fundamentally altering our understanding of the past. Hugh has discovered three. These are the terracotta centaur-figure from Lefkandi in Euboia, the long, slender island athwart Attica; the building known as the Heröon, raised, perhaps, in honor of a fallen hero, also at Lefkandi; and the statuette of a standing young male, known as the Kouros from Palaikastro in the eastern end of Crete, largest of the Greek islands.”
Internationally, Mr. Sackett no doubt will be remembered for his impact on the world of archaeology. In the Groton School community, countless colleagues and former students will remember him for his quiet, kind, and distinguished demeanor; his scholarship and rare wisdom; and his inspirational teaching, which ignited lifelong passions, aspirations, and careers.
Groton School extends condolences to Mr. Sackett’s wife Eleanor; his stepchildren Townsend Davis Jr. ’82, Henry P. Davis ’84, and Ruth Davis Konigsberg P’23; his brother Robert Anthony Sackett; his nieces, nephews, and grandchildren; and the many Grotonians who mourn this loss.
May our beloved colleague, teacher, and scholar rest in peace.