Simsbury, CT (1 June 2019) — More than 400 people gathered under a tent on the grounds of The Cobb School, Montessori in Simsbury Saturday night to honor the school’s founder and head who will be stepping down after 45 years. In an elegant ceremony with historic significance, Mary Lou Cobb was applauded for her bold vision, dogged determination, and compassionate leadership.
Family and friends spanning every decade of Mary Lou Cobb’s life and traveling from every corner of the country, attended the celebration to mark the end of her storied career as a founder and head of school. Mrs. Cobb is the longest standing founder and head in Connecticut history and was cheered for building a Montessori school that has served thousands of children and is revered around the world.
In 1974 Mrs. Cobb established The Montessori Children’s House in the basement of Ethel Walker School’s gymnasium. Forty-five years later, the school, renamed The Cobb School, Montessori in 1992, is home to nine classrooms, an art studio, library, science lab, multi-purpose hall, gardens, and playgrounds on five beautiful acres in Simsbury. Montessorians from across the globe visit The Cobb School to study best practices and discover what an independent Montessori school can do for the children and families in its care. Many of the school’s current and former teachers are prominent figures in the wider Montessori community, and all of its alumni have found their place in the world.
On Saturday night Mrs. Cobb was honored for her passion for Montessori and vision to build a sanctuary for children. Former Cobb School parent and board chair Anne Black emceed the event. Speakers included former Cobb parent and board member Tim Ellsworth, former parent and current board chair Denise Alfeld, executive director of the Connecticut Association of Independent Schools (CAIS) Doug Lyons, former head of Aidan Montessori Kathy Minardi, former parent Len Kulicki, current Cobb School teacher Marisa Gallagher as well as former teacher and administrator respectively, Gretchen Hall and Gerry Leonard, who are both now Association Montessori Internationale (AMI) trainers.
Also on the mic Saturday night to honor Mrs. Cobb were three very special people who know Mary Lou as “Mom” or “Mimi.” Mary Lou’s children Michael Cobb, Jr. and Sallie Ann as well as her granddaughter Annabelle all delivered heartfelt speeches echoing a similar theme — Mary Lou Cobb was adept at courageously and lovingly leading a school while being a remarkable mother and grandmother to her two children and four grandchildren.
Tim Ellsworth was first to address the audience. Ellsworth was a parent at The Cobb School in the 1980s and was instrumental in securing the school’s present location on Sand Hill Road. He spoke of the school’s unique history and recalled being rebuffed by zoning commissions repeatedly as Mrs. Cobb and her small army of committed parents searched for a permanent location. Ellsworth recalled fondly Mrs. Cobb asking the question again and again, “What’s Plan B?” The audience laughed when he referred to the current school and grounds as “Plan B.” To see the splendid, light-filled Montessori classrooms that open onto gardens and outdoor work and play spaces, the audience chuckled at the notion of it being anything but Plan A.
CAIS director Doug Lyons who, like Mary Lou, will be stepping down from his post this month, delivered a spellbinding speech that wove together scripture and poetry to land on his pressing theme: Mary Lou Cobb epitomizes admiration and inspiration.
Gerry Leonard, a world-renowned Montessorian, also lauded Mrs. Cobb. He first began by referring to Mary Lou as “my friend.” Mr. Leonard and Mrs. Cobb have worked together, attended conferences together, sat on boards and committees together, and have built a lifelong friendship that began with a passion for Montessori and a commitment to children. After Mary Lou Cobb officially steps down on June 30, she will join Gerry Leonard at the Montessori Training Center of New England, located at the former Hartford College for Women, now a satellite campus of the University of Hartford. Mary Lou will be a consultant for MTCNE and continue her career in education guiding school administrators, teachers, and parents.
Kathy Minardi, former head of Aidan Montessori of Washington D.C., now founder and director of Whole School Leadership, also spoke on Mary Lou’s behalf. She giggled as she reflected on their years together working as heads of school with all its attendant responsibilities and challenges. She called to the mic a surprise speaker, Sue Pritzker, also a head of school, who traveled from Portland, Oregon to help celebrate this momentous occasion. Mary Lou currently sits on The Whole School Leadership board and will be consulting and training on their behalf beginning this summer.
The tributes, each special and unique, shared a similar message — Mary Lou Cobb led with love. The word kept popping up, even as each speaker spoke of his or her particular journey with Mary Lou — as parent, as colleague, as friend. More words like “vision,” “passion,” “commitment,” and “fun” painted a picture of a woman who defied odds, defied roles, defied limits and built a school from the first brick, then steered it for 45 years.
When Mary Lou took the podium, she was visibly moved from the tributes, but, as Mary Lou Cobb always does, she stood with grace and delivered her own impassioned speech full of gratitude and humility. She drove home the point that she did not build The Cobb School alone. She recognized people who made a difference in the school’s life as well as her own. She asked former trustees to stand as well as former teachers, former administrators, and her current team of stellar faculty and staff who will carry the school into the future.
After her deep thanks to all in attendance and all who helped make The Cobb School what it is, she turned her focus to children. She said, “I believe that the fate of our future is with the children. It is about the construction of the human personality.” She went on, “Dr. Montessori discovered that within each child is the potential to be a change agent in this world, for the child is born with enormous gifts and it is our job to tap into those gifts and help them to reach their fullest potential, academically, socially, emotionally, and spiritually. This is what Dr. Montessori called the ‘secret of childhood.’” Mary Lou continued, “When I walk down the hallways of The Cobb School and see the children walking toward me, I think ‘Here come the changemakers.’”
Saturday’s celebration of Mary Lou Cobb was called “Welcome Home,” and every detail down to the program’s small, paper acorn embedded with wildflower seeds resonated with the love and care a Montessori education is known for. The woven tablecloths, the fine china, the candles, every detail said, “This is beauty. Food is love. We care.”
The Cobb School, Montessori wishes Mrs. Mary Lou Cobb much love and luck. Although she will no longer be found in the school drop-off line every morning, she will continue to be a force in the Montessori world. As a consultant, she will continue her work guiding Montessori professionals and parents and carrying Montessori principles into new arenas such as dementia care, traditional schools, and other environments. The Cobb School will miss her, but her legacy will live on in their hallowed halls.