Elaine Apthorp, English Department, 1999–2022
By Nicole E.C. Colson
English Department Chair
I have worked at Milton Academy since 2006 and, in that time, I have not been shy about telling people that I root for the Yankees. However, in my 15 years at Milton Academy, I have been reticent to mention my Yankees fan status to one person…and that person is Elaine Apthorp. It’s not that I think that Elaine, a true Red Sox enthusiast, would berate me or belittle my choice. Anyone who knows Elaine knows that is not in her nature. It’s that I would never want Elaine to think less of me.
There is no one on this campus that I respect more than Elaine. I find it both humbling and daunting to try to encapsulate her over 20 year career at Milton in a short encomium. Elaine teaches both English and History, two disciplines that require students to engage in close reading and rich, rigorous, written work. Her educational background demonstrates a deep investment in scholarship. After earning a degree in English and Religion from Williams College and a PhD in English Literature from Berkeley, Elaine taught for 13 years at San Jose State, before joining Milton’s faculty in 1999. She approaches her students as young scholars, empowering them to authentically engage with the work before them. Her passion and sensitivity bring out the best in her students and, when her students begin to falter or doubt themselves, Elaine is there, providing scaffolding and chances to explore, risk, fail, and persevere. She has truly “seen” the students at her table and helped them discover the paths that lead towards being their best and most authentic selves. Decades of students left Elaine’s classroom knowing that they have been empowered by someone who believes deeply in them.
I felt that I needed more historical context to Elaine’s career and I called John Charles Smith. He said that, of course, I should speak to her superb mind and impeccable training, but also emphasize that Elaine is really funny. While I have seen Elaine laugh on countless occasions, her humor is always genuine and lacking cynicism. I have never seen Elaine laugh at another person’s expense. I have, however, seen her laugh at herself, a truly rare quality. Perhaps this quality is why John Charles noted that she can “get along with anybody.” I have never heard an unkind word or complaint about Elaine.
I did not have the pleasure of working with Elaine in the dorm, but I have worked in the classroom with countless Goodwin students. When Elaine’s name is mentioned, there is a kind of reverential tone that the students adopt. Her kindness and empathy inform all of her interactions. Elaine bleeds for the students in her care. A colleague told a story that encapsulates Elaine’s tremendous sensitivity and goodness towards others. On a Class II retreat, before my time at Milton, a young man made an error of judgment prior to getting on the bus. By the time he arrived at the camp for the retreat weekend, it was clear that the student would need to be removed and would be facing disciplinary action, possibly expulsion. It was Elaine who embraced the child as he wept, staying with him and providing him comfort in, what for him, must have felt like a very dark time. Elaine provided safety to that young man when he needed it most.
When I began teaching at Milton, I recall logging on to the website to see my new colleagues. As I mentioned earlier, Elaine graduated from Williams College, which was indicated on the website. As a fellow Eph, I felt confident that this person was someone who was probably wonderful. Nothing in the past 15 years of working with Elaine has dispelled that first impression. She has been a role model for me and I know that I am not alone. I have often referred to Elaine as the conscience of the English Department. Her instincts and practice are always in the best interest of the students.
I wish nothing but the best for Elaine and Terri as they move on to this next chapter of their lives. I will not dwell on Milton Academy’s profound loss, but applaud Elaine’s well-earned retirement, cheering on her beloved Red Sox. And, while I seek to embody Elaine’s attributes as an educator, I hope she will understand if I keep rooting for the Yankees.