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A History of Princeton Day School in 12 Stories: Eamon Downey
A History of Princeton Day School in 12 Stories: Eamon Downey

Twelve senior members of Princeton Day School's faculty and staff have shared plans to retire in June. This profile of Upper School history teacher Eamon Downey is the second in our series on these long-serving and much beloved faculty and staff members. (The first profile is of Middle School history teacher Hank Bristol '72, which you can read by clicking here.)

Head of School Paul Stellato wrote in the most recent issue of the Journal, "Consider the impact of a group whose years of service on our campus reach into the hundreds, whose guidance, care, and direction have enriched the lives of thousands of students, parents, colleagues, and friends, and whose influence on the course and culture of our school can be measured in her unbridled prosperity, her national reputation, and her unwavering optimism." Here are stories of these esteemed members of our faculty and staff as told by their colleagues: Eamon Downey, by Howie Powers '80, History Department Chair.

"1972 was a momentous year for the United States. In February, President Richard Nixon travelled to China; in March, the Godfather was released, and in June, Republican party operatives were arrested for breaking into the Watergate Hotel. In late summer, the last U.S. ground forces left Vietnam, Bobby Fischer beat Boris Spassky, Bob Barker hosted the first 'Price is Right,' and Eamon Downey taught his first class at Princeton Day School. The year finished with President Nixon's reelection and the initial broadcast of HBO.

For many, perhaps, it is hard to pick out the most critical events of that fateful year, but for Princeton Day School the arrival of a young Irishman from Long Island was the beginning of a very successful partnership.

Eamon first came to Princeton as a highly recruited runner who went on to earn 12 Varsity Letters, and is still the two mile record holder at the University. Cross Country Captain and Track All American, Eamon is a member of Princeton University's all Century Cross Country/Track & Field Team.

Despite being an English Major at Princeton, Eamon began his PDS career as a history teacher in the Middle School under David Frothingham and Pete Jacques. His early career revolved around his students and his running. Eamon continued to grow as a very competitive long distance runner with a 2:27 NYC Marathon, but his favorite event was the half where he recorded a 1:07 finish (5:06 minute miles, ouch).

Now, while many know Eamon as a runner, it was Carlos Cara who shared another sports story from the 1980s.

'A bunch of us would play pick-up basketball in the boys' gym. Eamon never went in for rebounds, nor did he do a lot of dribbling. I can't remember him running around, for that matter. Instead, he would stand way back, further than the three point line used today and call for the ball. When he got the ball he would pump fake, bend his knees, and let go of a high arching shot. The ball would take flight and if it didn't hit the rafters, or go over the backboard, he would 5 out of 10 times hit the rim, and 1 out of those 5 times make a basket! In fact his skills were so renowned, and so impressive he was christened Downtown Downey.'

But it is cross country where Eamon made his mark as the longest serving Varsity inducted into the PDS Athletic Hall of Fame in 2013. Dave Freedholm, his assistant for many years, has fond memories of Eamon driving both his athletes to new heights and their golf cart to new racing trails.

While Eamon meshed well with the tweens of Middle School, in the 1980's he became drawn to the Upper School, which led him to Colross, where, at the time, history offices were located and classes were held. Eamon taught across the curriculum from Western Civilization, to U.S. History, to Political Science classes. Over the years he was consistently found leading his students in his classroom and working with them individually in Shepherd Commons. Eamon's dedication to his charges was noteworthy and set a standard for student care. As he entered the Upper School he also became the longest serving club advisor when in 1983 he took over the Model UN team from Gary Lott (and where his team spent an extra two days in Washington, D.C. snowed in by a blizzard). While the records are a little cloudy, we do know that 'Our Dear Leader,' as his students call him, has led this year's team to two Outstanding Delegation awards at conferences with more than 150 schools in attendance.

Finally we must honor his service as the school's longest tenured History Chair (1989-2006), following in the steps of his mentors Anne Rothrock and Gary Lott. He guided the department from one height to the next and made it a bedrock of PDS' academic excellence. He led its focus beyond a western history approach to add more perspectives and more disciplines.

His Athletic Hall of Fame plaque said it all: 'low drag, high performance, long distance' words that describe both his running, but more importantly, his teaching. Eamon is one of the foundational rocks upon which PDS was built. An amazing record of service."