Story by Kathy McPherson, Content Marketing Writer/Editor
They are three Durham Academy alumni with graduation dates 20 years apart, spread across the country and living far from Durham — yet all three are committed to giving back to DA. While Tom Beischer ’87, Andy Crawford ’97 and Margie Gudaitis Hess ’07 are more than 14 years removed from their time on campus, staying connected to DA is a priority for each of them.
Beischer is a teacher, Crawford is in finance and Hess works in philanthropy. Here’s a bit about each of them, how DA has played a role in their lives and why they believe in giving back.
Margie Gudaitis Hess ’07
Margie Gudaitis Hess credits Durham Academy for setting her up for success at Davidson College, where she graduated with a B.S. in psychology and a minor in French. She loved her college experience.
“I was really positioned to take advantage of all that my college had to offer because I came in so well prepared,” she said.
Hess valued her college experience so much that she took a job in philanthropy at Davidson after graduation.
“I think that part of the reason why I got into development was this incredible sense of gratitude and appreciation for where I had been, and feeling like I could give back to those places in some way,” she said.
While her fundraising work has taken Hess from Davidson to the University of Kansas and to the University of Arizona, she has served on Durham Academy’s Alumni Board, volunteered with DA Giving Day and is a steadfast supporter of the DA Fund.
“One of the things that I always think about with DA — and I've come to appreciate more and more since I left — was that emphasis on community service, thinking about how you can give back and give back in a way that's meaningful. … Identifying what your skill set is, what your strengths are and figuring out how you can use those in a way to help others or to help your community. I think that's something that started with our advisory groups going out and having those community service days. I've been in development since I left Davidson, and it's been a great experience. I've seen a number of other colleges and universities, but none that have touched my heart in the way that DA and Davidson have.”
Hess remains close with many of her DA classmates and classmates of her brother, Peter Gudaitis ’09, saying “those relationships have stood the test of time since we graduated.” Through moves across the country, marriage to Davidson classmate Taylor Hess and the birth of their son, Rory, “those are the people who have kind of been there and been incredible support systems.”
Hess appreciates opportunities to stay connected to DA, and she attended alumni events in the Charlotte area when she was working in North Carolina.
“Sometimes it feels like alumni events are just for people who are right out of college, but I don't think that that's true at all,” she said. “I think that there's such a great opportunity to network with alumni who are in all different stages of their lives.”
Hess recently moved to Philadelphia for her husband to begin a new job, and she is looking for work in philanthropy. “Now that I’m settled in the Philly area, if there's ever an opportunity to kind of connect with [DA] folks in that space, I do think it's worth making the effort. There are just such dividends in friendships and relationships in your network as a result.”
Hess said she has been “pleased to stay connected to the school, to see that forward trajectory, to believe in the path that we're on. That's one of the reasons why giving my time on the Alumni Board, but also giving philanthropically, is something that I continue to prioritize.”
Andy Crawford ’97
Durham Academy has a special place in Andy Crawford’s heart.
“We had a really long relationship with the school between my brother [Matt Crawford ’99] and myself. We've got over 20 years, cumulatively, of experience as students,” he said. “I think in conjunction with my family's upbringing, but also with a terrific educational system and wonderful teachers, DA really set up a tremendous foundation for both of us to be successful as students in college — and then also in my brother's case an M.D. and in my case an M.B.A.
“We want to give back and let others have the same sort of opportunity to develop the foundation that we were able to develop, going back to the late ’90s.”
Crawford is an executive at General Atlantic, a global growth equity fund, where he serves as managing director and global head of the consumer sector, sits on the management committee and is chair of the portfolio committee. He graduated from Washington and Lee University and earned an M.B.A. from Harvard Business School.
While Crawford, his wife, Mimi, and their three sons, ages 9, 8 and 5, live in New York, the Crawford family connection to DA runs deep. His mother, Beth Crawford, served as the Lower School administrative assistant for nearly 20 years before her death in 2016.
“We had an ongoing relationship with the school through her employment, and I know how happy she was to contribute and work for the school,” Crawford said. “That only engendered a deeper relationship that my brother and I felt that we want to continue to reward over time.”
Along with family and friends, they established the Beth Crawford Lower School Scholarship Fund in her memory.
Crawford said as he thinks about his educational relationships, “I was just at W&L for four years and I was at HBS two years. Being able to do something for Durham Academy based on what a longstanding relationship we had with the school just felt right. And then also, we sort of felt like our dollars could go farther at a smaller institution than they could have at a much bigger college and much bigger business school.”
Tom Beischer ’87
Tom Beischer thinks one of the reasons he became a teacher was “because of all the great teachers I had at Durham Academy. … They really taught me how to be a mentor, how to be a good teacher, what it means to listen to a student and try to learn how to teach to all students.”
He didn’t realize that was part of what he was learning. “I was trying to do well in physics or in calculus or French. But I really learned how to teach well from those teachers who were such good teachers and so invested in the students at Durham Academy.”
Beischer is in his 17th year as a lecturer at Stanford University, where he teaches architectural history. He earned a degree in art history from Stanford, a master’s degree in art history from Williams College and a Ph.D. in architectural history and theory from MIT. He lives in San Francisco with his wife, Lily; their son, Zach, who is a first-year student at Duke University; and daughter Anna, an eighth-grader.
Stanford students often take two or three classes with Beischer, and he also works with students on independent projects or honors theses. “Those are super rewarding because you get to work very closely with a student on their intellectual interest. You're kind of leading that student and pushing the student to think about things in a different way, and you already know the student somewhat intellectually.”
Beischer remembers coming to DA in first grade and feeling overwhelmed. He said his first-grade teacher “made me comfortable at Durham Academy and made me realize I could do the work. She was just really instrumental in me becoming comfortable with Durham Academy and she was somebody that then I had a great relationship with. She wrote me a card when I got married so many years later.
“Those long-term relationships at Durham Academy, I think, are the things I really value. I try to maintain those long-term relationships with some of my students also. I have students who graduated a decade ago from Stanford and I'm still in contact with some of them. That just means so much.”
He remains in touch with former DA Athletic Director (and current Middle School PE teacher) Steve Engebretsen and other teachers from his time at DA.
“I think that sense of community that Durham Academy had was really important. You know, there's so much more than just learning your reading and arithmetic,” he said. “It's about how you build community. At that time, Durham Academy was such a young school — especially the high school was trying to figure out what Durham Academy wanted to be in a sense.”
Beischer said it has been wonderful that his nephews (Will Beischer ’15, Nick Beischer ’17 and Davis Beischer ’20) attended DA and he has been able to experience what Durham Academy is like through their eyes.
“I realize that those same ideals of teaching and community are still very important. Michael [Ulku-Steiner], in his leadership [as head of school] emphasizes those points. … I think those core values are still in play.”
Beischer said that is one of the reasons he continues to support DA.
“Even though the school is bigger than it was when I was there and offers different types of programs we didn't have — whether it's computer science or sports or whatever — it still adheres to many of the values that were there in the early days of the school or the high school especially, and that's really reassuring.”