A memorial service for Walton Greenleaf Congdon will be held at 1 p.m. on December 29, 2012, at St. James Episcopal Church, 8 Church Street, Greenfield, MA.
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Science teacher and passionate renewable energy advocate Walton Greenleaf Congdon died on December 3 at age 80, 18 days after suffering a heart attack. Born on April 5, 1932, he grew up in Arlington, Vermont, where he spent his boyhood swimming in the Battenkill River, exploring on foot and bike, discovering amateur radio, and developing a lifelong deep affection for the state. He was the son of Herbert Wheaton Congdon and Helen Warrington Jones Congdon; because his mother was a birthright Quaker, plain speech was used in the family and Walton learned the value of service, finding a calling rather than monetary reward, and reaching group consensus by way of discussion.
After graduating from Arlington High School in 1950, Congdon majored in psychology at Amherst College and minored in chemistry and religion. He graduated in 1954 and entered the army, where it was discovered he had an amazing aptitude for learning Morse code (which he had known for years), so he was placed in the Signal Corps. Stationed in Micronesia, he gained an enduring affinity for the warm waters and people of the Pacific.
In 1956 Congdon accepted an offer to teach chemistry, physics, and general science at Mount Hermon School in Gill, probably not imagining he would spend his whole 38- year working life there and at its successor, Northfield Mount Hermon School. In 1965 he received a MALS degree from Wesleyan University, earned in summers. His way of chairing discipline committees at Mount Hermon and NMH led to his being named a counselor at the school in 1973. In 1975 he took a year's leave of absence to start a counseling office at Hawaii Preparatory Academy on the big island, where he was able to re-experience his love of the Pacific. He returned to NMH as the first Director of the Freshman Program for three years, and then went back to the chemistry classroom until his retirement in 1994, when he was named an honorary member of the graduating class.
In 1995, the NMH Alumni Association gave Congdon the Morrow Award for "a non- alumnus who has contributed much to the life and spirit of Northfield Mount Hermon School." His citation read in part, "Respect for other people and a reverence for life are hallmarks of Walton Congdon. Engaging and relaxed, forthright and unpretentious, Walt has always put others at ease. Whether in the classroom, a meeting, or a friendly conversation, Walt listens in a heartfelt way that communicates interest and understanding ... It was as a teacher and mentor to teachers that he had the greatest impact."
Congdon was ahead of his time in conserving energy by always riding his bicycle to work (although he never locked it, it was never disturbed on campus). In retirement, he was very active in renewable energy education and stainability in town, schools and colleges, for which he was the subject of articles in The Greenfield Recorder and elsewhere. For years he was a non-employee visitors' guide for popular tours of what was then New England's largest windfarm in Searsburg, VT, and he frequently led groups through his own home in Northfield, which was entirely powered by a solar energy system he had designed and built. He often spoke to groups such as ham radio clubs about how they could make use of sustainable energy and inspired many to try alternative energy through his example, instruction, and skillful practical help. Amateur radio was another of his enduring interests; he served as president of the local Franklin County Amateur Radio Club, taught radio licensing classes, led the license exam team, and staffed road races and other public service events. In retirement, he and his wife were often seen out walking, when he loved chatting with neighbors. In the spirit of his lifelong teaching role, Walton donated his body to the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester.
Walton Congdon is survived by his wife of 54 years, Elizabeth ("Betty") Madden Congdon, whom he met when they were counselors at an Episcopal conference center for teenagers in 1957; their son Dr. Nathan Congdon, a surgeon who teaches eye surgery at ZOC eye hospital in Guangzhou, China, Nathan's wife Ana Sanchez and their children Amelia and Marco Greenleaf; Walton and Betty's daughter Joy Congdon, owner of Stillpoint Dressage, an equine teaching and training business in Shelburne, Vermont, and her partner, James White; Walton's brother Stephen Leeds Congdon of Richmond, MA, his wife Lorie and children Charles and Arwen; three Martin cousins, and a nephew, Eli Madden.
The family wishes to thank the staffers of Serenity Homecare and Buckley Healthcare Center for their able and caring treatment of Walton.
Memorial gifts in Walton Congdon's name may be directed to Northfield Mount Hermon School and, specifically, the Ayers-Gilbert Fund for Sustainability and the Environment at NMH. Contributions may be sent to Kristin Kellom, Northfield Mount Hermon Advancement Office, One Lamplighter Way, Mount Hermon, MA 01354.
Published in The Recorder on Dec. 11, 2012