David Underwood ’54

President of the board 1989-2004. Chaired the search that resulted in the selection of Barbara Landis Chase as head of school in 1994.

A native Texan, investment banker and generous philanthropist, Underwood served as a charter trustee from 1983 to 2004 and was president of the board from 1989 to 2004. He also chaired the search that resulted in the selection of Barbara Landis Chase as head of school in 1994.

Underwood’s keen intellect, wit and ability to deftly preside over board meetings remain sources of inspiration for Board President Peter Currie ’74, who remembers him as an amazing benefactor and leader of Phillips Academy. “David was deeply grateful for the opportunity to serve as president of the board. He led the board through many decisions, and was perhaps proudest of his appointment of Barbara Landis Chase, who led the school so successfully for 18 years.”

Chase called it a privilege and a blessing to work with Underwood through the first decade of her tenure. She described him as a masterful leader, who made leadership look effortless. “David accepted responsibility courageously, shared credit freely and enjoyed working with others,” she said. “The Academy’s traditions and history moved him profoundly. Yet, David remained open to new ideas. In his mind, Andover’s best days always lay in its future, and he led the board to make that aspiration a reality.”

“David’s lasting impact was best seen in the Trustees Room,” Currie said, “where he led with empathy, care, decisiveness and attention to the school’s founding principles. After encouraging debate and dialog from all trustees, David would bring a discussion to a close, with the issues better understood and the direction clear. ‘I think we’ve chewed all the sugar out of that gum,’ he would say, as he brought the matter to a vote.”

Underwood’s commitment to Andover, as well as his extraordinary public service and philanthropy more broadly, earned him the school’s highest honor, the Claude M. Fuess Award, in 2003. He was recognized for his service to hospitals and health care systems in the Houston area, as well as for providing nearly half a century of support for Andover teachers and students and the glorious spaces in which they live, learn and teach.

In addition to his belief in the school’s academic mission, Underwood’s gifts to support campus facilities speak to his appreciation of the iconic. He was quoted in a 1999 Phillipian as saying: “I have often thought that one of the most important roles of a trustee is to be a voice for the campus. Faculty and students can advocate actively for their needs. Buildings stand silent.”

Currie noted that “David loved his time as a student.” And fittingly, his first major gift to the school established the Underwood Room, which opened in 1963, and to this day, provides a welcoming space for students and faculty to gather. As chair of Campaign Andover (1996 to 2002)—at the time, the largest fundraising effort among secondary schools, exceeding $200 million—he supported a number of building and program initiatives. As honorary cochair of The Campaign for Andover, which closed in 2012, Underwood was instrumental in helping raise over $322 million.

“There is no place on campus that wasn’t touched by David’s efforts,” said Currie. “The expanded Cochran Chapel, which can accommodate the entire student body, the expanded Oliver Wendell Holmes Library, and the comprehensive planning that led to the construction of Gelb Science Center are just a few examples.”

Moved by the idea that iconic spaces should sustain and invigorate a community, Underwood’s funding of the new chapel balcony in 1997 did just that. Prior to the expansion, some students had to view All-School Meeting via simulcast because there weren’t enough seats in the chapel.

Perhaps his boldest political move came in 1999 when, under his leadership, trustees implemented a policy change allowing same-sex couples to serve as house counselors. The decision, which preceded legal recognition of same-sex marriages in Massachusetts by five years, was controversial at the time, but Underwood remained steadfast in his representation of the board, saying: “We make decisions that are the right decisions to make. We don’t make them for other reasons.”

Phillipian editorial followed. “Our intrepid captain, David Underwood, showed how skillfully he can navigate our ancient ship and showed that he understood the principles that have guided it for centuries—that virtue and piety are far more important than practical concerns and that morality and goodness are the surest foundation.”

Underwood’s message to classmates upon their 50th reunion in 2004 perhaps reflects best what Andover meant to him: “I have served on several boards, I have led various organizations, but nothing can ever match the experience I have had working with Andover. I have on occasion been asked why I devote so much time and have enjoyed it so much. The answer is that every time I go back to campus I am reinvigorated by the students, the faculty and by my fellow trustees. Nowhere could I find a more constant source of inspiration for me. I would not have traded it for anything…”

Back to people