Woodberry Honors the Life of Former Headmaster A. Baker Duncan '45

Addison Baker Duncan, Jr. ’45, who led the integration of Woodberry Forest School while headmaster in the 1960s, died Wednesday, January 16, in San Antonio, Texas. He was ninety-one years old.

Baker Duncan was born in Waco, Texas in 1927. He was the son of A. Baker Duncan, Sr., who graduated Woodberry in 1911 and was the school’s senior prefect. At Woodberry he was editor of The Fir Tree and head cheerleader in his sixth form year — the annual bonfire that year was named “Duncan’s Lumber Yard.” He also ran the 440-yard dash, and he coached Woodberry runners in that distance while headmaster.

After Woodberry he went to Yale University, graduating in 1949. Though he hadn’t swum at Woodberry, he made the team at Yale, which helped him land a job after graduation as a history teacher and swimming coach at The Hill School. He earned a master's degree in history at the University of Texas before working for Rotan, Mosle and Co. in Houston.

In 1958 Mr. Duncan was elected to Woodberry’s board of trustees, and three years later he resigned from the board to take a position as assistant headmaster. The next year, 1962, he was appointed headmaster, a post he would hold until 1970.

In 1968 Mr. Duncan submitted a report to the board of trustees that carried several critical suggestions. Among them was the recommendation that Woodberry Forest admit qualified students regardless of race or creed. The first African-American students entered Woodberry in September 1969.

Academic excellence was a priority of Mr. Duncan's, and he hired many faculty, including several directly out of college, who went on to distinguished education careers at Woodberry or other leading schools. And Mr. Duncan was the headmaster when Red and Cathy Caughron founded Sports Camp, an initiative that was very important to him. He also led the school's second capital campaign, the Advance Campaign of 1967 to 1970, which built the J. Carter Walker Fine Arts Center, a large addition to the dining hall in Walker, and eleven faculty houses — in addition to adding significantly to the endowment.

Near the end of his term as headmaster, Mr. Duncan also urged the board to consider a merger with Chatham Hall; he envisioned a dual campus, with boys occupying many of the current dorms and new dorms for girls overlooking the Rapidan River. Ultimately the board of trustees postponed and then dropped any plans for a merger, and Woodberry remained an all-boys school.

As headmaster Mr. Duncan was famous for his Monday night assemblies. He would often call on a student by name and ask suddenly, “What does the honor system mean to you?”

He was also known to turn up in students’ rooms or sit down with boys around campus to inquire about their lives, friendships, and academic progress. Mr. Baker believed that no task should be above the headmaster; students and faculty remember seeing him picking up trash on the lawn or taking out empty soda bottles to the dumpster during a dance.

After Mr. Duncan resigned as headmaster in 1970, he returned to the business world in his home state. He remained an active member of the Woodberry community for the next fifty years, offering advice to his successors and always making time to attend Woodberry events in Texas.

Many other Duncans attended Woodberry, including Baker’s brother, Rufus ’50, and one of his sons, Andrew, a member of the Class of 1980.

Returning in 2017, for what would be his last visit to campus, Mr. Duncan spoke to the reunion class of 1967, sharing his reflections on his time at Woodberry.  View Baker Duncan's remarks and photos from this talk.   

Mr. Duncan’s Christian faith was very important to him, and he was very active in his Episcopal church in San Antonio. Mr. Duncan is survived by his wife, Sally, his sons Baker, Richard, and Andrew, and many grandchildren and other relatives.

A funeral for Mr. Duncan will be held at 11 a.m. Central Standard Time on Saturday, January 26, at St. David's Episcopal Church, 1300 Wiltshire Avenue in San Antonio, Texas.
Woodberry Forest admits students of any race, color, sexual orientation, disability, religious belief, and national or ethnic origin to all of the rights, privileges, programs, and activities generally accorded or made available to students at the school. It does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, sexual orientation, disability, religious belief, or national or ethnic origin in the administration of its educational policies, admissions policies, scholarship and loan programs, and athletic or other school-administered programs. The school is authorized under federal law to enroll nonimmigrant students.