Perspective: King “Doc” Odell

Doc Odell, MB Senior Master & Archivist, on the meaning of place

(from the spring/summer 2017 MB alumni magazine)

King “Doc” Odell arrived on campus in 1953 and has seen buildings appear, expand, move, and vanish based on the community’s evolving needs. With a tenure that spans 11 headmasters, he is a walking time capsule.

For 52 years, Doc taught, coached, and supervised the residential community (boarders). Growing up in Warwick, Doc says, “I’d never heard of Moses Brown.” He was finishing his master’s (in French Language and Literature) at Brown when a professor told him the school was looking for a six-month French teacher. “So I strolled over,” he recalls. “I thought the campus was gorgeous — trees, green grass, and open space, so well kept.” Doc chuckles as he recalls the offer: “$1,200 — plus housing, meals, and laundry service.”

Most of the school was under one roof in Middle House: classrooms on the ground floor, the dormitory above. “When the faculty met in the Head’s office, across from the Bird Room,” Doc recalls, “as the most junior teacher, I sat on a stool next to the door.” His classroom was over the archway to Gifford. Alumni Hall was both library and study hall. The Head’s apartment was in the building, too — living room, dining room, kitchen, bedroom, bath. Doc smiles, “Meanwhile, I was living in a single room!”

The dining room was in the same place as our cafeteria, but only faculty could use the back stairs. “That part of the building was absolutely silent,” he says. “Now it’s bedlam!” The dining room was noisiest at lunch, when day students joined boarders. Students and teachers were assigned tables, and scholarship students worked as waiters. “Those were sought-after jobs, because those boys could eat the leftover ice cream,” says Doc.

Walter Jones was still the gymnasium. “I can still see that room as our basketball court,” Doc says. “We usually won because other teams didn’t know what to make of those walls!”

Doc is impressed with the new Woodman Center’s interior, and its flow into the renovated library. While he appreciates the new spaces, he cherishes the history: “I still think back to the old days in this building: the creaky floors, the dining room clatter, the study hall. I like to look towards Hope Street at the arch, where my first classroom was.”