Alex Banay Retires After 40 Years

This spring, Alex Banay concluded a 40-year tenure in which she served as the Head of the Classics Department, Dean of Faculty, and Senior Master. In her graduation remarks, Head of School Kathy Giles thanked Mrs. Banay for her remarkable career at Middlesex:

Alexandra Banay began her career at Middlesex when she was fresh out of university, arriving in the United States to enlist at a New England Boarding school. Her husband, Ron, was established in the math department, and Alex’s early career encompassed teaching Latin, Greek, French and English until she became Head of the Classics Department, the first female Middlesex teacher to hold an endowed chair, and in the final decade-plus of her career here, Dean of Faculty and Senior Master, again another first. There are few people whose talent for language meets Alex’s, and in a nod to her classical mind, I would describe Alex’s presence among us as the embodiment of the Greek concept “philos” – a beloved friend; someone loved dearly and prized in a personal, intimate way; and the concept of “philia,” defined as “affectionate regard, friendship,” usually “between equals.”

In the Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle defines the concept of philia as loyalty to friends in a “brotherly love” way, a love that extends from family and friends to the entire community. The slightly more modern philosopher C.S. Lewis points out that philia is perhaps the most challenging of loves, requiring as it does virtue, equality, and familiarity. It is a choice made, rather than a relationship expected or imposed; it is based on mutual respect and affection, even knowing the other person’s weaknesses; it is public as well as private; and, again, its bonds forge community. In a community like ours, in which waves of students and colleagues perpetually flow through and then away from the School, the extension and development of that friendship, steeped in respect, affection, and trust, is the best kind of orientation to the community we want to be.

 There is no better definition of Alex’s life and work among us than this concept of philia.  She is singularly committed to the experience of our students, and that is the end of all of her work; she has her firm, gentle hand on the heart of the school dynamic – that fluid, mutual, respectful bond between teachers and students through which so much learning passes.  As a teacher, advisor, mentor, and Dean of Faculty, as she helps hire and mentors and supports and encourages the faculty members who on a daily basis take the School’s mission and bring it to life in their classrooms, practices, rehearsals, and meetings, one sees philia at work across our school.  The empathy and humility with which Alex approaches life is backed up by what can only be described as strong, true, and heartfelt devotion to the intellectual enterprise and to creating a school in which students and colleagues will thrive. 

With gentleness and patience and the genius a fine mind brings to its vocation, Alex never strays from that vision. She suffers fools wisely, observing and listening and discussing but always bringing us back to the point – that we are here, together, to create ways that teaching and learning can inspire all of us throughout our lives, and that lofty end is best reached through philia – that it is the work of respect, self-discipline, honesty, and kindness, to bring knowledge and learning and enlightenment to life in young people. Forty years of laboring on and with this love have created an extraordinary legacy in the lives of generations of people – perhaps the only real monument that ultimately matters in one’s life, no matter how colossal other honors might seem.

Of course, in a neat linguistic twist, the Greek word for love is philia and the Latin word for daughter is also filia – spelled differently, mangled to the same pronunciation by us Luddites, but united in Alex’s life both as a daughter herself and as the matriarch of the Banay family, with its three wonderful daughters whom Ron and Alex have shared with Middlesex. So many of us have learned so much over these years as Alex has proved that there is indeed such a thing as balance in one’s life and that, perhaps, the way to find it is to take one’s self out of the center and consider, then create, the connections and supports that bring out the best in others.  Few are possessed of such grace as is Alex Banay, and we thank her for sharing it with generations of Middlesex faculty and students for the forty years this School has been blessed by her life and work among us.

-Head of School Kathy Giles