Patrick Smithwick

SJA ALUMNUS
CLASS OF 1960

Education after SJA:

  • Gilman School – Class of 1969
  • Johns Hopkins University – Class 1973 – Bachelor of Arts with focus on Literature and Writing
  • Hollins College –  Class of 1975 – Master of Arts in Creative Writing and English
  • Johns Hopkins – Class of 1988 – Master of Liberal Arts
  • University of the South – Class of 2000 – Education for Ministry Certificate

Favorite SJA Memory:

I was in Mrs. Eberhardt’s first grade class. She was a wonderful, giving teacher, with the ability to empathize with us, to understand what was going on in our minds and imaginations.

Mrs. Eberhardt was patient and was teaching us to read using phonics. In class one day, I was called on to read aloud. I read one word, sounding out the letters. Then I read the next word, sounding out the letters. One word at a time. And the words didn’t really add up to mean anything. Each word was separate. This went on for a few days. Many of us were proceeding in the same way, but we had faith in Mrs. Eberhardt.

One day, she called on me. I started to read the very simple sentences in a book by focusing on one word, sounding it out, then going to the next, when magic struck. It was as if I had been trotting along with my bicycle, one leg on either side; I had been holding the handlebars, awkwardly steering, and shuffling along with my feet on the ground. It was as if I had been jogging my pony Queeny, jogging and jogging, posting up and down, and had never broken into a canter.

Then, suddenly, picking up speed, I was up on the bicycle seat, pedaling and moving fast and smoothly down the road.

Or, with just a little more pressure from my legs, I was standing in the stirrups, Queeny broke into a canter, and with a little more pressure, a fast gallop, and we were flying through the field.

The words became not singular objects to be pronounced. They fell into a pattern, the pattern of one phrase, then another, and of the phrases making up a sentence, then one sentence after another. Each sentence had a meaning, and each sentence led to the next, and I wanted to know what that next sentence, and the one after, and the one after that would be—and I’ve been reading ever since.

But my favorite St. James memory does not end here. Decades later, I am seated behind a small desk at a Baltimore bookstore. Beside me is a stack of copies of my first published memoir, Racing My Father, about my youth and my love for my father and my upbringing. There are not many visitors. Then, I see an older woman, strong and smiling, walking slowly up a long stairway to my table.   A young woman, her daughter, is by her side. They approach my table. I stand—as I was taught to do at St. James. I don’t have to be introduced. This is Mrs. Eberhardt—who gave me the gift and passion for reading, which then led to the passion for and love of writing, and to me standing there, at this moment, eyes watering, inscribing a book to my first grade teacher.

How did SJA prepare me for the future:

St. James instilled in me the joy of reading. It taught me that reading was an adventure. I loved to go outside, read books by the stream, climb up into my tree house, pull up the rope ladder behind me, and open up a book. And through the bringing home of hardback, physical books, through the turning of the pages, the feel of the book in my hands, the carrying it up to my tree house, and the wonder of being put in another world in my imagination by the reading of words on a page, I realized someone had to write this book. Somehow sat down and wrote on a pad, or in a notebook; someone wrote and wrote until the words in the notebook became the words of a book, and that was something I wanted to do. I distinctly remember pulling sheets of paper out of my loose-leaf notebook, sitting down at the triangular desk (it fit into the corner of my bedroom; I had a window on either side), paper in hand, all ready to write a “book,” and then it occurred to me, What will it be about? I struggled a bit. Had a few false starts. And then wrote a story about going for a ride with Tom Whedbee, on my ponies Queenie and Twinkle, and many adventures occurring along the way.

Advice for current students:

Create time for yourself to really concentrate, be in the moment, focus on what you are doing: especially when reading and writing, when creating. Thus, compartmentalize: create compartments. When in one compartment—studying French or Spanish, do just that. When in another compartment—working on an upcoming speech, do just that. Also, when you are over sixteen, and you are driving a car—focus on the driving of the car. (This applies also to riding a horse. “Pay attention!” Tom Voss, my St. James classmate, told all his riders and barn workers.) Allow yourself to go deeply into an activity or subject.

Career highlights:

  • Teaching: Teaching English and writing at Oldfields School, Severn School, St. Paul’s School for Girls, Gilman School, Harford Day School (where I absolutely loved teaching Middle Schoolers medieval history), Goucher College, Johns Hopkins University. The wonder and delight and constant feeling of accomplishing something worthwhile in this world that teaching gives you.
  • Writing: giving credit to the amazing cast of educators over a hundred year period at Gilman School through the writing and editing of Gilman Voices, 1897 – 1997.
  • Writing: hundreds and hundreds of newspaper and magazine stories about people who deserve to be noted, to be read about, people who inspire.
  • Writing: completing the trilogy of memoirs, Racing My Father, Flying Change, Racing Time, and hearing that readers have been moved to laugh out loud one minute, and moved to cry the next.
  • Riding : Winning the championship of the Elkridge Harford Hunter Trials on my parents’ horse, Crag, when I was twelve. Winning hurdle races at Saratoga on Tote’m Home and Wild Amber trained by my father when I was eighteen, and then a timber race for him that fall on Count Walt, who was really trained by my mother. Winning the Butler, Maryland Grand National on Welter Weight for my best friend Tom Voss when I was fifty.