Nick Heyniger ‘48
"In my class of 1953 at Princeton there were five young men who had, or soon would have, ties to Darrow. Pete Conrad, Tim Cutler and Herb Hudnut were all Darrow grads, while I had lived and studied there for many years. And we also had Des McCracken, who was born in Edinburgh, Scotland.
Des majored in modern languages, wrote his senior thesis on Blaise Pascal and played intra-mural ice hockey. I did not see much of Des while we were undergrads, as we had gone to different schools and had different majors and eating clubs.
I got to know Des better during visits to Darrow. One of his hobbies, in addition to hockey, was keeping track of people's birthdays, and matching them with celebrities. So I was really tickled when he sent me a card some years ago noting that I had the same birthday as Sophia Loren. Star crossed!"
Class of 1962
The Class of 1962 has collected their own Thanks to Carl, the memorial for Des McCracken is viewable here.
Marc Tuttle ‘70
I am truly saddened to hear of the passing of Des McCracken. I lived in Medicine Shop for three of my four years at Darrow, and studied French with Mr. McCracken. I went to Darrow shortly after my parents divorced, and I had a few rough years. After Darrow, I received a degree in Mechanical Engineering from Georgia Tech, married, have two grown sons, also both engineers. My wife and I thoroughly enjoyed the challenges of raising our sons, and I have had a successful thirty eight year career in engineering. I have to give credit for many of my successes in life to the encouragement, guidance, and discipline which were a part of daily life in Medicine Shop with Mr. McCracken.
I have also attached a photo which I took one winter at Darrow. It was taken from the second floor of the barn next to the pond just below Medicine Shop. This “Girl on a Pond” photo has, for me, come to represent the importance of each generation giving guidance and support to the next. This was the spirit of Mr. McCracken, this is the spirit of Darrow!
David "Bob" Saccone ’65
I was saddened to read of the passing of Mr. McCracken in the Peg Board. It seems like just yesterday I was struggling with French lessons in his class. He would always start class by writing the game results of his beloved Maple Leafs during the hockey season. We would hope that they would win and put him in a better mood.
Though I only stayed at Darrow for a year and a-half I never forgot Mr. McCracken. He always was available to talk to about school and any other matters. Even after I left I keep in touch with him thru letters from time to time.
I am sure that myself, and many others, will have a tear in my eyes, as we read his tribute.
Des was a student as well as a teacher of language. He found great satisfaction in dissecting and constructing words, finding and sharing shades of inflection, mystery and bemusement with students and colleagues alike. Norris Howard, Des and I regularly enjoyed between-class brainteasing in the second- floor faculty room, lobbing French, English and Franglais witticisms back and forth to one another. Des especially enjoyed a variation on the word-spelling game GHOST, whose object under standard rules was to avoid completing the spelling of a legitimate word of four letters or more by adding another letter to the sequence of letters already in play. Our special wrinkle was that you could add a letter before, after or within the letters already in play, as long as the letters remained in the same order within the word you had in mind. Of course, you needed to produce that word if challenged, as bluffing was an important tool to have in your quiver.
Along those same lines, Des, Gordy Terwilliger, Joe Hornick and I indulged in way too many late evening Scrabble games up on the second floor of Medicine Shop. “The Drones” was our name and “laying tiles” was our game. I recall Des being appropriately prone to use of the word “jo”, which Webster defined as a “Scottish boy.” How appropriate…
McCrack was fiercely loyal to his beloved Toronto Maple Leafs. Before the advent of cable TV and computers opened theretofore unimaginable viewing horizons to the avid Maple Leaf faithful, Des would surf the radio airwaves to find an often crackly-static-ridden Canadian broadcast of his team’s games. I’m sure that he is now settled in in a comfortable chair at a card table in his new living room, riveted to the Leafs’ latest tilt.
Des McCracken was an extraordinary teacher and coach. He lived for the successes of his students, hockey players and Medicine Shoppers. Each correctly declined irregular passé composé, each successfully deflected charge by the other team’s opponents, each shot on goal, each room presented with ill-disguised pride for room inspection – he was always there cheering, always in his understated (and often unstated) way. He stood uncompromisingly for excellence, inflecting its definition as appropriate to the student and the moment. Des was authentic, his own person, and a great friend and mentor to us all.
If Heaven is all it’s cracked up to be, Des and his Leafs are enjoying a winning season (“undefeated” seems greedy) on their way to a runaway victory in the Stanley Cup finals. Salut, mon bon ami! Une vie bien jouée!
Peter Cholakis ’72
Des McCracken was a truly great man and educator. We all have our Darrow memories, however, anyone who took the time to know Des truly benefitted from his wit, generosity, sense of fairness… not to mention his passion for the Maple Leafs. Darrow is very important to many of us; the sunsets, our life-long friendships, and so much more. It would be impossible for me to think of Darrow without remembering Des, and that’s the way it should be.
Valle Dwight ’75
RIP monsieur. He holds a huge place in my heart. Senior year Steve Rudy and I were the only students in French 5, so we held the class in his apartment, and had the best time writing stories, translating, etc. Rudy wrote an epic story about some mysterious doings on the mountainside with Mssr. McCracken as the "professeur fou" who was the culprit in murder and mayhem. McCracken loved those stories (I think I still have them around someplace).
Quietly funny, he was the shyest, smartest, most self-effacing man I ever met.
John Gratiot ’68
A true classic of the Darrow family. He will be missed by so many.
Harry Savage ’59
A recollection of French IV in Wickersham: the five kids in the class reading a de Maupassant short story one spring afternoon after lunch. The classroom windows were wide open and Chittenden, the farmer who leased land from the school, came by on his tractor pulling a trailer of odoriferous, foul smelling manure. A classmate, who was reading a passage from the de Maupassant novel, stopped and whispered, “Gee, it smells like shit.” Des picked right up on it, responding, “Oui, Monsieur, c’est vrai. C’est merde. MERDE!” Surely, he was a Darrow institution. And, yes, those chalkboard erasers, loaded with chalk dust, always on target!
Horton Durfee '43 P'72 GP'99
Des and I first knew each other as bachelor members of the Darrow faculty. On Friday evenings I often went to his small apartment in Ann Lee, where we each opened a can of beer and settled down next to the radio, ready to listen to the Friday night boxing match. We also enjoyed our trips to the record shop in Pittsfield, where we could listen to classical music on an LP or two before we made a purchase. Busy in Neale House, or later in Valentine Cottage as house parent and advisor, Des also taught French for many years. Later, he became the librarian, and in this capacity he struggled to bring the collection of books up-to-date. Always eager to find ways to improve things, Des was hampered by a limited budget. Des experienced another frustration as he looked in vain for the right place to build a hockey rink for the hockey team he formed. One such venture involved using the Twin Pond as a site. But success was ever fleeting, as man-power to build a rink, and budgetary considerations always took first place. Nevertheless, throughout his life, Des continued to share his enthusiasm for all Canadian hockey teams. He followed their games on radio, and later, on his computer. He also tracked college teams, particularly those in the Northeast. His love of ice hockey was always a special earmark. I cherish the memories of happier days with Des McCracken, a long-time Darrow teacher and a special friend.
Mark Russell ’73
Des' Wickersham classroom on the fourth floor was unique with its fixed blue desks. A distinctive feature was the dorm room next door, which jutted out towards Darrow Road. After one vacation break, John Horn, the room's occupant, returned to school with a pet monkey who enjoyed spending time sitting in the window, much to the distraction of Des' French students. I recall Des' many well-aimed flying chalkboard erasers that he fired off in an effort to regain our attention.
My favorite memory of Des is from the day I had a terrible cold and needed to blow my nose. As we only spoke French in class, I broke open my paperback translation dictionary, raised my hand, and asked Des if I could be excused; in response he burst out laughing to a degree I had never before witnessed. After regaining his composure, Des explained that I had just asked if I could leave the classroom to explode (blow up) my nose!
To paraphrase his quotation from my freshman yearbook, Des' imagination was surpassed only by the goodness of his heart.
Mike Flomen ’71
Des, Ron Emery, and I were close friends too. I think because I was from Montreal , home of the Habs, he knew hockey was in my blood. He probably let me get away with as much as I could as a French student, I did not study as I recall, and winged it from my own French background . I was a co captain of his team. Somehow we managed against all the wealthier schools with indoor rinks. We practiced by shoveling the pond. Chauncey the ram chased us onto the ice until the foot bridge was erected. God bless him. He was terrific and I am amazed at his being with us for this long. My condolences to all his family and friends.
Harlan Strader ’70
Des was my housemaster while I was at Darrow during my sophomore through senior years.
I doubt I have ever met any man shyer than James D. McCracken, but I know that I have met few nicer men than he. Funny, referring to himself as “Des” seems so unnatural as to us boys, he was Mr. McCracken or “Coach.”
My freshman year at Darrow (1966) was not a good year for me either academically or socially. I was assigned to the top floor room in Hinckley House with three other boys, and by the end of the year, I was ready for a change, as I am sure Ron Emory and Her Poole were equally ready to see me move to another house. Des. McCracken took me to Medicine Shop, the smallest and most remote house on campus. However, it was the smallness and location that held an appeal, and Des imbued in the 12 or so boys in “the House” a certain pride that we were lucky enough to “room” in such a selective environment. It was that way for the next three years. It was through Mr. McCracken that we were exposed to the Toronto Maple Leafs and to a wonderful array of classical music that emanated from his apartment on a stereo system we all coveted. There was a heavy emphasis on organ music which was natural given that he was brought up the son of a well-known Episcopal minister.
Each night when he was on duty, his door was always open for us to socialize with him and to purchase at reasonable price sodas and candy. I am pretty sure he subsidized the real cost of these refreshments- never charging us full fare. Mr. McCracken ran a very tight ship at Medicine Shop. I don’t remember him ever yelling, but you knew what he would and would not tolerate. Hew was also one of the most stealthy people I’ve ever seen. At any moment he could silently appear as if from nowhere to monitor the goings on, or if he sensed inappropriate behavior. For a lover of classical music, he was also extremely tolerant of the 60s acid rock that constantly blared from Scott Milnor and Dave Falck’s room.
There was also a sly sense of humor that betrayed itself on many an occasion and a shy, yet genuine smile that surfaced more than most realized. Des McCracken loved Darrow School, loved teaching, coaching, hockey, being librarian, and quietly and by example, mentoring the countless students he came in contact with. It was an honor to know him and I learned far more from him than I can recount here.