Clay V. Stites, Beloved Headmaster

Clay V. Stites, 78, died peacefully and surrounded by his family at Charlton Memorial Hospital in Fall River, Massachusetts, on August 27, 2021, after a heart attack several days earlier. Born in Atlantic City, New Jersey, on June 22, 1943, Clay learned early his love of hijinks, especially when they involved crank calls, costumes, or fireworks. He lost his father to a heart attack when he was seven and was raised by his formidable mother, a public school teacher. He also had an older brother, Dan, whom he tormented by perfecting his tell-tale whistles throughout the night in their shared bedroom.

After Atlantic City High School, Clay attended Haverford College (class of 1965) in Pennsylvania, where he met Clara Howland Perkins, a student at Bryn Mawr College. Depending on who you ask, they met either when she was hanging flyers at Haverford for a Shakespeare play, or when she was buying a duck who lived on her dorm balcony, or when he was riding his motorcycle through the Bryn Mawr stone arch. Clay liked the third option the best. They married in Hingham, Massachusetts, in June 1966, after Clay completed a year at the London School of Film Technique and before he did an MFA at the Tisch School of Arts at New York University. They both started teaching shortly thereafter and moved to South Dartmouth, Massachusetts, in 1969. Clay was head of the middle school at Wheeler School in Providence, Rhode Island, until he became headmaster of Friends Academy in North Dartmouth in 1977.

Clay touched innumerable lives in his fifteen years as headmaster of Friends Academy. He greeted each student by name with a handshake at the door in the morning and presided over dismissal, employing his uncanny ability to match vehicles to their owners and announcing the upcoming carpools over the PA system. He participated in recess, hitting pop fly baseballs far into the field to tire the 7th and 8th grade boys. He taught science and math with his characteristic humor. He led student trips not only to Nantucket, where he patiently taught one ninth grader to ride a bicycle, but also to the USSR and China at a time when very few American teenagers had such opportunities. He instilled many he touched with confidence, courage, an understanding of respect, and the ability to embrace challenges in all forms, all while telling jokes.

In 1992 he left Friends Academy and moved to Los Angeles, where he was head of the Curtis School for five years. He retired from headship in 1997, co-founded the consulting firm RG175, and worked for 24 years as a consultant to independent schools. He and Clara moved to Kendal Crosslands at Longwood, a retirement community in Pennsylvania, in 2017.

In addition to Clara, he is survived by his brother, Daniel P. Stites of Sonoma, California, his son Page and daughter-in-law Sarah Kelley of Washington, DC, his daughter Elizabeth and son-in-law Peter Smith of Budapest, Hungary, and four grandchildren who called him PopPop and loved him dearly.

Clay was a teacher, a leader, a filmmaker, a musician, a bargain-hunter, a poet, a lover of short-cuts (“Mr. Sneaky”), a cook, a woodworker, and a gifted public orator. He was a dedicated husband and the very best father and grandfather. He leaves those who loved him with innumerable gifts. Through example and compassion, he taught us lifetime loyalty to friends, that work is overrated, that it is good to make people laugh, that we should devote time to counsel others, and that we cannot ever love our children or pets too much.