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Norfolk Academy has many beloved traditions, including an important one to begin each school year. Just before the Head of School begins meetings, the Board of Trustees Chair steps to the podium to share an inspirational message with the entire faculty. 

This year, the 296th year in the life of Virginia’s oldest school, the traditions unfolded with new faces. Norfolk Academy has a new Head of School, Travis J. Larrabee, formerly assistant head of school at William Penn Charter School in Philadelphia. 

Board Chair John O. Wynne Jr. ’94 is also at the start of his three-year term at the helm of the Board, having served for nine years on the Board, most recently as Finance Committee Chair, and as Co-Chair of the school’s $68 million Defining Leadership Campaign. He is the parent of two children, one of whom is a rising 7th grader at NA and one of whom attends Cape Henry Collegiate, and his wife, Katherine, has served as Co-Chair of NA’s Art Show and Field Day. 

In a deeply personal and powerful address, Wynne spoke of the transformational impact that Norfolk Academy has had on his life and on the lives of his family members. “I absolutely love this institution. It has meant the world to me and my family,” he said. 

He noted that his father was a ’63 graduate, and his mother and his brother Brad ’00 served as teachers. He spoke poignantly of another brother, Lee, who was between John and Brad in age, and who developed leukemia when he was 21 months old. Lee, who passed away from the disease, was receiving chemotherapy when he entered first grade, and often was too weak to leave the house. But when he had the energy, the one place he absolutely wanted to go was Norfolk Academy and Mrs. Howell’s first grade classroom. 

“He loved his classmates, he loved the playground, he loved the lunchroom setting,” Wynne said, “and he appreciated that which makes this place unique, his teachers.” 

Wynne then went on to speak about teachers who impacted his life, particularly longtime Middle School Director Gary Laws. He recalled that Laws poked his head into Wynne’s 9th grade English class one day and asked to “borrow” him for a few minutes. Laws asked the young Wynne about his year, his interests, and what he wanted to do with his life. After a little chat, Laws offered an observation: “It sounds like you’re coasting.” Wynne couldn’t deny it.  

Over the course of the year, Laws met with Wynne to read books and have conversations, which meandered into life stories. Laws offered encouragement, guidance, and practical suggestions. As a result of the attention and wisdom Laws gave him, Wynne “developed a drive and a work ethic that was previously lacking, and it set the tone for the rest of my life.” 

With newfound focus, Wynne became a better student and lacrosse player at NA, earning All-American status in his senior year. He went on to Princeton, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in history and won three national championships with the Tigers. He is the founder and CEO of Fortis Solutions Group, a labeling and packaging company with 1,200 employees and offices coast-to-coast.  

“It’s incredible to see the depths you as educators often go to for the betterment of the students of Norfolk Academy,” Wynne emphasized. “Those opportunities to make an impact occur daily. A slight interaction with a student could set the tone for the balance of their education, their career or life.” 

This opening day marked Mr. Larrabee’s first remarks to the entire faculty and staff as Head of School; he visited throughout the 2022-23 academic year and had spoken to many groups as the “incoming Head.”  

This moment which he has awaited for months, felt almost “surreal,” and he expressed gratitude to all who had helped him prepare over the past year, including former Headmaster John H. Tucker Jr. (1978-2000) and recently retired Headmaster Dennis G. Manning (2001-23) — both of whom sent him encouraging messages the night before. “I am very aware of the mantle they have passed on,” he noted. 

Then he dove into the work of starting the school year, including the beginning of setting themes and goals.  He spoke about the aspects of Norfolk Academy that drew him to the school — the strength of the community, the holistic “mind-body-spirit” approach to student development, and the school’s commitment to excellence. 

He promised the faculty and staff to expect many questions, and that he would listen to learn from them about the school’s “thick” culture, accreted over nearly three centuries. “Culture is the bones, the foundation of the place, the history, and how we treat one another.” 

Through asking questions, he said, he hoped to provoke conversations about how to work together, taking pride in the school’s institutional strengths, but having the humility to seek to improve. “The ultimate question is: How do we make a great place even better?"

In his remarks, he stressed the importance of partnership in the work ahead in the Year of Integrity and beyond. “What you all do will make the coming year another great and memorable one in the Academy’s rich history,” he said. “The success of any school is directly linked to the experience, quality, and dedication of its faculty and staff, and I am so excited to be part of this group and to call you all colleagues.” 

John O. Wynne Jr. '94, Board of Trustees Chair, spoke to faculty and staff during opening meetings.

John O. Wynne Jr. '94, Board of Trustees Chair, spoke to faculty and staff during opening meetings for the 2023-24 school year. 

Head of School Travis Larrabee making his remarks at Opening Faculty Meetings for the 2023-24 school year.

Head of School Travis Larrabee thanked teachers and set goals at Opening Faculty Meetings for the 2023-24 school year.

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