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Richard L. Wade, 69, Germantown Friends head of school

The tall, courtly southerner assigned himself the task of guiding the Quaker school known as GFS into the 21st century. He did, to accolades.

Richard L. Wade with the Germantown Friends School mascot, a tiger.
Richard L. Wade with the Germantown Friends School mascot, a tiger.Read moreCourtesy of Germantown Friends School

When Richard L. Wade arrived on the Germantown Friends School campus in 1993, enrollment was down. Administrators had left. The faculty was fragmented. The school faced financial problems.

In taking the job as head of school, Mr. Wade, a tall, courtly Southerner who had run the Rippowam Cisqua School in Bedford, N.Y., for the previous decade, assigned himself to guide the Quaker school known as GFS into the 21st century.

Over the following two decades, he did, retiring in 2013 with many accolades.

Four years into retirement, Mr. Wade, 69, of Philadelphia and Hardy, Va., died Monday, Nov. 13, of complications from multiple system atrophy at Hahnemann University Hospital. He had been ill with Parkinson's disease for six years.

"It is with profound sadness that I write today to share that Dick Wade, beloved head of school from 1993 to 2013, died last night," Dana Weeks, the current head of school, said in a statement Tuesday. She credited Mr. Wade's "steady, personable leadership style" for the progress made by the school during his tenure.

Between 1993 and 2013, Mr. Wade hired bright teachers, beautified the school's seven-acre campus, oversaw construction of seven building projects, strengthened a commitment to diversity, and nurtured a strong sense of community, the school wrote.

As word spread of Mr. Wade's death, GFS teachers and administrators offered glimpses of why he was so effective.

"He immediately established himself as an extremely capable leader who knew how to run a school," said Rita Goldman, who retired this year as associate head of school. "The faculty and staff quickly coalesced in support of him. But I believe his most outstanding trait was his exceptional emotional intelligence. He just intuitively knew how to connect with people — all people —  from the early childhood preschooler to the oldest alum. We all felt he knew us, and that we were special to him."

Mr. Wade taught that to form a true community, its members needed to trust and look out for each other. An active member of Second Baptist Church of Germantown, he nonetheless wove Quaker beliefs – that the worth of each person is of paramount important, but that good decisions flow from consensus – into the texture of school life.

"Dick sustained a wholeness to school life," said Michael Williamson, an art department teacher who was entrusted by Mr. Wade with leading the school self-evaluation for accreditation and heading the Upper School faculty as dean. "He was deeply loved and will be sorely missed.  I have faith that he is with his God."

Sallie Jackal, the principal of the Lower School during the time that Mr. Wade was at GFS, said he was not afraid to be persuaded by someone else's point of view.

"He listened with focus and sensitivity, asked probing questions, added his own evolving opinions and then, with grace, humor and wisdom, moved us to previously unforeseen places that we could all embrace and enjoy," Jackal said.

Brandon R. Jones, director of Upper School admissions and diversity recruitment, was a former student at GFS.

"Dick cared deeply about his family, but also showed the same love and care for us, as students, as he did his own son. He became a father figure to some, a mentor to most, and a friend to all. He lived his life leading by example, and oversaw GFS with a unique tenderness," Jones said.

After graduating from GFS, Jones stayed in touch. In 2008, Mr. Wade offered Jones, then working for the Philadelphia Stock Exchange, a position on campus. Jones switched careers, returning to a place that his mentor had helped make his "home away from home," he said.

Jones said his last memory of Mr. Wade was a 2015 road trip to Durham, N.C., that the latter organized to attend a Duke Blue Devils basketball game. "The experience is one I will never forget," Jones said.

Asked what he would most miss after his final GFS commencement, Mr. Wade responded: "The morning hustle and bustle in the hallway outside my office in the Main Building."

"I'll be fine," he told "It will be restful at least for a day or two, since the responsibility of working with 860 kids, and families, and alumni [will be gone]. But I will certainly miss this."

In retirement, Mr. Wade traveled, spent time at the family house at Smith Mountain Lake in Hardy, Va., and was active with the Friends Council on Education and the Second Baptist Church of Germantown.

Born in Charlottesville, Va., he grew up in Greenville, N.C., where he graduated from Rhodes High School. He earned a bachelor's degree from the College of William and Mary, and a master's degree in education from Northwestern University.

 From 1970 to 1972, Mr. Wade served with the Army in  Vietnam and was honorably discharged with the rank of lieutenant.

In 1970, he married Cheryl Helms. The couple had a son, David.

Mr. Wade's wife, son, and two brothers survive him.

A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday, Dec. 2, at Second Baptist Church of Germantown, 6459 Germantown Ave., Philadelphia 19119. Burial is private.

A meeting for worship in the Quaker tradition will take place at 3 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 3, at Germantown Friends Meetinghouse, 47 W. Coulter St..

Memorial donations may be made to the Richard Wade Tribute Fund at GFS, 31 W. Coulter St. Philadelphia 19144, or to the Second Baptist Church of Germantown at the address above.