The Old School Award was created by the Punahou Alumni Association in 1976 to recognize an individual who may not be an alumnus, but “who exemplifies the spirit of Punahou through outstanding service to the School.” It was more than fitting for Dean “Tiger Tom” Metcalf to receive the award when he retired in 1990. By then, he had literally defined the position of Academy dean and shepherded eight graduating classes.
Still the lively raconteur today at 97 years old, Metcalf likes to tell the story of how he became one of the first Academy deans. He arrived at Punahou in 1950, and after four years of teaching sixth and eighth grades and another three as an Academy English teacher, then Punahou President John Fox approached him in spring 1957, with an irresistible offer.
“Tom, we know what your faults are, but we want to offer you a position as dean,” Fox said.
“What’s a dean?” Tom asked.
“I don’t know, but there will be four of you.”
And so Metcalf’s dream role began.
“Being a dean was the best position one could have at Punahou,” Metcalf said as part of a 2021 Alumni Week video. “You pick up ninth graders – 14 years old, coming into the Academy. You stay with them for four years and see them grow from boys and girls into young men and women.”
More than 3,000 students in the Classes of 1959, 1963, 1967, 1971, 1976, 1980, 1984 and 1988 successfully completed the Punahou experience, thanks, in part, to Dean Metcalf’s wry wit, practical common sense and deep well of tough love.
Although it’s been more than three decades since he served as dean, he remembers individual students and incidents in uncanny detail. He recalls the Class of ’76 featuring him in a dance number in their senior Variety Show, dubbing him the “Dancing Dean.” And he still Zooms with the Class of ’59 on the first Friday of each month. (“They may be 80, but to me they are still 18,” he said.)
Byron Washom ’67 says whenever he sees Metcalf, he tells him that everything he accomplishes in life is a “dividend of (his) guidance to take risks while pursuing whatever becomes my passion.” So in October 2021, eager to incent engagement in his 55th Reunion, Washom proposed that the Class of ’67 create an endowed financial aid fund in honor of their former dean.
With characteristic modesty, Metcalf initially didn’t want the limelight shone on him, but then warmed to the plan, and agreed that the fund would be called “Tiger Tom.” He hoped the money raised would help students who are making a difference, but haven’t been recognized for their actions.
Within three months, the Class of ’67 had contributed twice the gift minimum for establishing an endowed financial aid fund. “How better to convey our sincerest mahalo to a great mentor and friend?” Washom said. “We hope that other classes join us in supporting the Tiger Tom Metcalf Endowed Financial Aid Fund.”
Remembering the cold February day when he took the bus from Middlebury College into Burlington for his Punahou job interview, Metcalf is mindful that life could have been very different had he not found his way to Hawai‘i. “I have to thank Punahou and Hawai‘i for a wonderful life,” he said.
And now, many more students will have Tiger Tom to thank for their Punahou experiences in years to come.
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