Clarence D. “Clay” Armbrister, former senior vice president and chief of staff of The Johns Hopkins University, Mayor Michael Nutter’s chief of staff and executive vice president and chief operating officer of Temple University, has been appointed president of Girard College.
Armbrister said his work in educational institutional settings and with the city of Philadelphia has given him the ability to enhance his skills.
“I’m excited, but at the same time, I’m humbled by the selection, excited about the opportunity and the prospects. [I’m] really looking forward to working with the students, administration, faculty, staff members along with the Board of City Trusts to try to maintain what is a gem institution in the city,” Armbrister said.
Additionally, Armbrister discussed his goals for the school.
“My goals are to listen and try to help figure out the best for maintaining the school and hopefully begin to expand with appropriate resources,” Armbrister said.
Bernard Smalley, senior counsel to the Tucker Law Group, has known Armbrister for 20 years. As the chairman of the Girard College Committee Board of City Trusts and chair of the search committee, Smalley said Armbrister has a passion for education and the experience to be successful as the school’s president.
“I’m excited about the opportunity of having Clay as the next president of Girard College. Not only for the city, but especially for the students and the administration of the school, and for what it means to the region,” Smalley said. “He’s always been committed to quality education. We face challenges at Girard College, as does any other major educational system, the School District, the Catholic schools. We’re all facing difficult times. This is the opportunity for someone who is extremely skilled in management [and] has a foundation in education to bring his skills to help the kids at Girard to get a 21st century education.”
Medical negligence attorney Bernard W. Smalley Sr. has joined Philadelphia’s largest African-American owned law firm.
With offices in Philadelphia and Miramar, Fla., Tucker Law Group, LLC, specializes in civil and commercial litigation and handles individual personal injury cases and employment discrimination matters. Led by attorneys Joe H. Tucker and Yvonne B. Montgomery, TLG is known for representing major companies, colleges and universities in the Philadelphia area.
Smalley, who has become senior counsel to TLG, concentrates his practice in the areas of medical negligence, pharmaceutical liability, defamation, class actions, products liability and other major personal injury matters.
Prior to joining TLG, Smalley practiced law for 27 years with the Philadelphia-based firm of Anapol, Schwartz, Weiss, Cohen, Feldman & Smalley, P.C.
Smalley said he was drawn to TLG for its quality and diverse base of African-American, Asian, Caucasian and Hispanic attorneys.
“There comes a point in your life, where you want to carry out what you talk about,” he said. “One of the things that I’ve been interested in for a long time is diversity. While the large firms can represent people of color, they should also hire people of color and that has been met with mixed results not only at Anapol Schwartz, but also with some of the largest personal injury firms in the city.
“Joining Joe’s firm is an opportunity for me to work with of group of creative and diverse attorneys,” Bernard said. “To be able to handle complex, very detailed cases and to get strong results for our clients, for me to able to do that in a very diverse atmosphere that mirrors what the city of Philadelphia and the region looks like, is very important to me.”
Tucker referred to Smalley as one of country’s preeminent personal injury lawyers.
“His client base cuts across all demographic lines and just further establishes the Tucker Law Group as being the preeminent African American-owned law firm in the city and the state,” Tucker said.
“This is sort of a dream fulfilled for me. The fact that I’ve been able to establish something that Bernie feels good enough and comfortable enough to join, makes me feel proud of what we’re done here at the firm.”
Smalley is the first African American ever elected to serve as president of the Philadelphia Trial Lawyers Association.
He is a member of the Pennsylvania Bar Associations’ House of Delegates, National Bar Association and the Barrister’s Association. Smalley sat as chair of Hearing Committee 1.14 for the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania Disciplinary Board and was a standing member of the Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court’s Evidence Committee.
He frequently lectures on trial techniques before national, state and local trial lawyer and bar associations.
Smalley has received the President’s Award from the Philadelphia Barristers Association, the Soaring Eagle Award from the Minority Caucus of the American Association of Justice (formally ATLA) and the Pursuit of Justice Award from the American Bar Association as well as the 2008 Justice Thurgood Marshall Award of Excellence.
He serves on various boards including the Widener University School of Law Board of Overseers and the board of City Trusts, the Girard College Committee (chairman), The Ellis Trust and the board of the Zoological Society of Philadelphia.
Prior to attending law school, Smalley was the deputy court administrator for Civil Administration for the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas.
Smalley received his bachelor’s degree from Temple University in 1971 and his law degree from Widener University School of Law in 1980.
He is married to Jacquelyn Manns Smalley. They have two sons, one daughter-in-law and two grandchildren.
Autumn Adkins Graves, the outgoing president of Girard College, has a bit of advice for her successor.
“Make sure you spend time with the kids, because that is what gets you through the difficult moments,” she said. “They’re amazing.”
Graves, 39, will leave the post she’s held for three years on June 30. She plans to return to New York City, where her husband recently got a promotion, making his four-hour commute to Philadelphia unsustainable.
Nevertheless, Graves will continue to be a presence in Philadelphia.
“I will continue to have connections here,” she said, noting that her parents and two siblings live in the city, and that she’s taking part in an executive doctoral program at the University of Pennsylvania. “I love Girard and what it represents in terms of changing the lives of children in our city. Once Girard becomes a part of your life, you never really leave, and Girard will always be a part of me.”
The college, once closed to Black students, was a key battleground in the city and nation’s civil rights movement. It was integrated in 1968 when the first Black student was admitted. Female students would gain entry in 1984.
Now, minority students make up the majority of the student body.
Graves, who was appointed in May 2009, was the institution’s first Black and first woman president.
“That was not a new experience for me,” she said, running down a short list of other schools where she had been the first African American or first woman in a leadership role. “But, here at Girard College, it was amplified in very different way because of the history of the school — and because of that I received a number of different supports. A lot of women in Philadelphia reached out and were incredibly kind and supportive of me. I’ve enjoyed a lot of hugs and prayers from freedom fighters.”
Still, when she stops to reflect on her tenure as president inspires a note of gratitude.
“My grandmother was a domestic. She was the help. She didn’t go past seventh grade,” Graves said. “So there is a lot of significance to this role because of where I’ve come from. My other grandmother was college educated, but her mother was a slave. So, I find that my story, my history here, is another thread in the fabric of the American story.”
The school has faced financial problems recently as a result of the recession. Enrollment has been pushed down from over a high of more than 600 students to 465.
Graves said she hopes school officials find a way to reverse the trend.
“I wish that Girard had the capacity to have more students here,” she said. “Girard has made progress, but the financial and programmatic challenges it faces today will force us into a period of change, and Girard requires a leader who can devote all of his or her energies to that challenge, to see it through from start to finish so that Girard can grow and thrive in the years ahead.”
The school’s trustees are planning to appoint an interim president then launch a national search for a permanent replacement for Graves, who said she would work with the board to ensure a smooth transition.
Trustees lauded Graves for her work.
“It is with enormous respect that we have accepted Autumn’s decision to step down,” said Bernard Smalley, the head of the Board of City Trusts’ Girard College Committee, in a statement. “Autumn has spearheaded the effort to make Girard one of the pre-eminent urban boarding schools in America, and she has performed her duties with skill and devotion. All of us in the Girard family — students, faculty and staff, parents and leadership — owe her a debt of gratitude, and we look forward to continuing to work with her in the future.”
Students at Girard College gave His Royal Highness Prince Edward, the third son of the United Kingdom’s Queen Elizabeth, a warm welcome Thursday during a visit to commemorate the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.
“He really was a jokester,” said Kira Cossa, a senior at Girard College and participant in the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award Philadelphia program. “I was a little nervous, but he was really nice.”
The prince, who is chairman of the board of the International Council of the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award International Association and seventh in line for the British crown, met with about 20 local participants of the award program from Girard College, Science Leadership Academy and Valley Forge Military Academy. He also planted a Magnolia Elizabeth tree — named after his mother — at the northeast corner of the administration building. The planting, to honor the Queen’s 60 years on the throne, mirrored a similar gesture made in 1860 by Prince Edward’s great-great-grandfather King George VII, when he was Prince of Wales.
That visit was the first by a member of the royal family to the United States.
Prince Edward said he didn’t think the city would have to wait that long for another visit.
“You’ve made me feel very welcome here this afternoon,” he told a group of about 200 students gathered on the lawn for the tree planting. “I hope that some other member of the family may get here before 2162. That seems rather a long time to wait for something else to turn up here.”
Noting that the tree planted in 1860 was still flourishing, he told students that he was looking for someone to take care of his magnolia tree.
“If it doesn’t last quite so long, I know who to come complain to,” he joked.
As if to remind him that he was in North Philadelphia, an passing SUV blaring hip-hop music briefly blared over Prince Edward’s speech.
Despite the royal’s string of titles that includes Earl of Wessex, he impressed students at the Girard with his good manners and easy sense of humor.
“He was so much nicer than I thought,” reiterated Cossa.
“I said ‘nice to meet you your Royal Highness,’” said Gregory Wright, another senior who met the Prince. “He said, ‘I’m pleased to meet you.’ I was surprised.”
Students practiced for several days for their audience with the Prince.
The event was attended by the school’s president, Autumn Adkins Graves and Mayor Michael Nutter as well as Bernard Smalley, president of the board of trustees and Oliver St. C. Franklin, OBE, Honorary British Consul in Philadelphia.
“This is an historic occasion and a treat for our students,” Nutter said. “On behalf of a million and half people and growing, we welcome you.”
The mayor also singled out one member of his staff who is British: Luke Butler, the mayor’s special assistant.
“The British influence is throughout city government,” he quipped.
Nutter presented the prince with a small replica of the Liberty Bell and Graves gave him a print of the Girard College campus as it appeared in 1860. The Prince of Wales visited the college then because it was the highest point in the city and visitors often climbed to the roofs of campus buildings to get a bird’s eye view.
The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award – named after the Prince’s father, the Queen’s consort – mentors students between the ages of 14 and 25 in 132 countries. Participants take part in a series of community services projects that highlight service, physical recreation, skill development and an adventurous journey, at three different skill levels. The program was established in 1956 and came to Philadelphia in 2009. There are 75 participants living in Philadelphia: 30 bronze medalists and 15 silver medalists. The first gold level awards are expected to be awarded in the fall.