Nov. 27, 1935 – March 29, 2020
Greg Farrell ’57 was in his 80s when he joined former colleagues and their children on a river-rafting adventure that included a hike to a powerful waterfall. When the guides said people could stand under the torrent, everyone hesitated — except Farrell, who waded to the base of the waterfall and let the water pour down on his head.
“I happened to be standing next to the 16-year-old son of one staff member who turned to me and said: ‘Man, that guy is awesome,’” colleague and friend Richard Stopol recalls in an email.
“And indeed he was,” says Stopol. Farrell experienced life fully and zestfully, with a hunger to continue to learn, to grow, and to try new things, Stopol wrote in a tribute.
Farrell had worked as a high school English teacher, Princeton admission officer, newspaper reporter, and director of an antipoverty program when he took an Outward Bound course in Colorado in 1964. Then a light bulb went off: Why couldn’t school be more like an Outward Bound course, with its emphasis on adventure, discovery, teamwork, and contribution?
Farrell first helped 30 young men from Trenton attend Outward Bound courses. But it wasn’t until 1970 when he became executive director of the Fund for the City of New York that his vision of education began to take shape. In 1987 New York City Outward Bound Schools was born. Since then the organization has partnered with hundreds of public schools, bringing its emphasis on community and character to more than 200,000 students, according to its website.
Five years later, Farrell founded EL Education (formerly Expeditionary Learning Schools), a partnership between Outward Bound USA and the Harvard Graduate School of Education. He served as its president until 2008 and remained on the board of directors until his death. The organization supports mostly underprivileged students in more than 400 schools around the country.
“Service and compassion were hallmarks of Greg’s life. I think that’s why Outward Bound made so much sense to him, because those are the two principal values of Outward Bound,” says former colleague and friend James Garrett ’65.
At heart, Farrell was a humanitarian. “Greg was truly committed to education of people at all levels,” says Garrett, “particularly to those whose educational circumstances would be considered disadvantaged.” Stopol, president and CEO of NYC Outward Bound Schools, says Farrell “was genuinely convinced there was dignity and worth, greatness even, in each person he met.”
Ron Berger, chief academic officer of EL Education, tries to emulate the “Greg Farrell approach to life” — being patient and kind and really listening to people. Unlike most of us, Berger says, Farrell considered “being stranded in an airport as an opportunity instead of an inconvenience.
“He would say he was lucky for the chance to slow down, learn new things, and meet new people,” Berger continues. “There is a long list of EL Education supporters whose entry to our world came because Greg sat next to them on flight or a train ride.”
Fran Hulette is a former Class Notes editor at PAW.