Underwood ’54 Receives Fuess Award for Service

Winning the Claude Moore Fuess Award for distinguished public service, President of Phillips Academy’s Board of Trustees David Underwood ’54 addressed the student body at a special All-School Meeting that kicked off the 225th/175th Anniversary weekend last Friday afternoon. Mr. Underwood received the Fuess Award in recognition of his years of admirable service to hospitals and health systems in the Houston, TX area, as well as the generous support he has given the Academy for nearly half a century. Upon receiving the award, Mr. Underwood commented, “The Fuess Award is just wonderful, and I certainly cherish it.” The Board of Trustees created the Fuess Award in 1964 to honor former Headmaster Claude M. Fuess and to acknowledge the “outstanding public service” of alumni and to motivate students to reach out to the outside community. Head of School Barbara Landis Chase presented the award to Mr. Underwood at Friday’s All-School Meeting. After listing numerous programs that Mr. Underwood is involved in in his hometown of Houston, she spoke about his contributions to Andover, which have included the gift of the Underwood Room, major donations to the renovation of Cochran Chapel, construction of the Gelb Science Center, and serving as the Honorary Chair of Campaign Andover. Former President George Bush ’42 also commended Mr. Underwood for his “great work.” Mr. Underwood has served as the Chairman of the Board at the Texas Medical Center since 1992. Since he took that position, the size of the Texas Medical Center has nearly doubled. It is now the world’s largest such facility, employing more than 62,000 people in the Houston area. Mr. Underwood has also served on the Board of Trustees at the Methodist Hospital in Houston since 1963. Mr. Underwood has impacted the Academy profoundly. In 1959, just one year after completing undergraduate studies at Yale University, he donated the Underwood Room. Mr. Underwood was also a major donor in the renovation of the Cochran Chapel. In 1996, he served as the chair of Campaign Andover, jump-starting the campaign with a $10 million gift. A Charter Trustee of PA since 1983, Mr. Underwood has served as the President of the Board of Trustees since 1989. In 1994, he chaired the Head of School Search Committee, which achieved its goal with the hiring of Barbara Chase for the post. “Many people have told me, regardless of everything else I have done for Andover, my greatest contribution was finding Barbara,” Mr. Underwood noted. Mr. Underwood first arrived in Andover from Houston as a 13-year old summer school student before ninth grade. He eventually chose to attend Andover because his older brother attended Lawrenceville, and his parents did not want them at the same school. Reminiscing about his early days at the Academy, Mr. Underwood noted that school spirit and hospitality have changed markedly from his days as a student, saying, “On my first day, I was not greeted with students on the corner begging for honking [to show Andover support]. Older students would stand on the corner, ordering us ‘preps’ to carry their couches and trunks for them. Luckily, I knew alternate routes from my time on campus during the summer, so I avoided most of the work,” he said. He added that nowadays, the Andover campus is much more welcoming. Mr. Underwood stated that the most glaring change at PA since his days here has been the addition of female students. The school was also considerably smaller in the 1950’s, with a population of only 750 students, as compared to the 1070 of today. Continuing to reflect, Mr. Underwood also noted the more homogeneous nature of the school in his time. “There may have been only one African American student when I was at Andover, and there were very few students of Asian descent,” he said. However, he added, “We had good religious diversity.” Regarding academics, Mr. Underwood said that the core curriculum at PA had remained similar and that the school has maintained its academic rigor. He cited his first-year English class, in which he read Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, as one of his favorites. However, he lamented that his only opportunity to take an elective course was a religion class during his Senior year, and commended the school for the numerous elective opportunities now available. Despite his enjoyment of the academic aspects of the school, Mr. Underwood derives his finest Andover memories from attending football games with his friends. “When we lost, we were quite saddened, but when we won, it was absolute euphoria,” he recalled. According to Mr. Underwood, he has stayed in touch with many of his classmates from Andover, particularly those who moved from Andover to Yale with him. Mr. Underwood said that the hardest part of being a Trustee is keeping the school’s finances in order. “The great challenges that face us are financial. The Board has to be vigilant to keep close tabs on our budgets from year to year. Finding the appropriate salary structure for faculty and watching the budget are our main concerns,” he said. Having graduated from Yale in 1958 with a degree in economics, Mr. Underwood then continued his studies in 1969 at the Institute of Investment Banking at the Wharton School of Finance at the University of Pennsylvania. He then went on to serve for three years of active duty in the U.S. Army Reserves. For his service during the Berlin crisis, Mr. Underwood, a captain, received the Army Commendation Medal. Working at Underwood, Neuhaus & Co. from 1960-1989, Mr. Underwood rose to the position of chief executive officer. Currently, he is the president and director of the Feliciana Corporation, located in Houston.