The Very Rev. Francis B. Sayre, Jr. ‘32, longtime Dean of the National Cathedral (1951-1978) and one of the first recipients of the Distinguished Alumni Award (1962), entered the School in 1925. His younger brother, Woodrow W. Sayre ex-36, followed in 1928, and their honorary Siamese brother, Debriddhi Devakul ‘34, otherwise known as “Tau”, arrived in 1930. The Sayre boys were grandsons of President Wilson by his daughter Jesse, who had married Francis B. Sayre in 1913. The senior Sayre, a professor at Harvard Law School from 1917 to 1933, also served as foreign affairs advisor to the King of Siam and later as Ambassador to Siam in the early 1920’s. The Sayre family lived briefly in Bangkok and upon return to Cambridge brought with them Tau, son of Prince Traidos Prabandh, “…to absorb a Western education along with us.” F.B. Sayre, Jr., “Tau” Debriddhi Devakul – A Reminiscence. See also F.B. Sayre, “Siam’s Fight for Sovereignty” (The Atlantic, Nov. 1927).
Although a native of a more tropical climate, Tau took to New England winters and ice hockey, becoming a standout goalie. As reported in The Sextant (Easter 1934):
December 20,—Harvard Freshmen 6, Belmont Hill 1. On the ice in the Boston Garden Belmont lost to the powerful Harvard Freshman sextet in the curtain-raiser for both teams. Devakul was easily the outstanding player of the afternoon, making one miraculous save after another and holding the collegians to four goals until the last few minutes of the game.
The opposing team contained two of Tau’s teammates from the prior season: my father who had been BHS captain that year and Louis Carr ‘33. With the outcome already clear, they let on that Tau was a bit nearsighted and shooting from outside might be more effective. Indeed, Tau had managed to stop enough pucks with his face while practicing his position that Mrs. Sayre had fashioned a leather mask for him. No record exists to indicate whether he ever wore the mask in a game, but few would guess that among the earliest designers of this hockey innovation was the daughter of an American president, or that among the first to experiment with it was a Siamese royal playing at Belmont Hill.
A change in government cut short Tau’s royal career and renamed his country. But undeterred, Tau soldiered on, ultimately contributing to the welfare of his countrymen through scientific and engineering achievements, including the iron buffalo tractor, successful rainmaking in Thailand and neighboring countries, and invention of an early process for extracting pure hydrogen from sea water and sunlight. Sakultala, “M.R. Debriddhi: Inventor extraordinary,” Bangkok Post (Dec. 21, 1980).
As a consequence of his father’s appointment as Assistant Secretary of State by FDR in 1933, Woody Sayre left Belmont Hill after his Fourth Form year (also the year of Tau’s graduation) to continue at St. Albans in Washington, D.C. He graduated from Williams in 1940, and then while awaiting military service, pursued graduate studies at Harvard and the Smith 1940 graduate whom he would wed in May 1942. During this period he boarded at 150 Fletcher Road, adjacent to the School in the house built and then owned by Lincoln Dow, a member of the faculty from 1933-1942.
Woody Sayre would go on to have an interesting career as a philosophy professor and mountain climber. However, his time on Fletcher Road, next door to the Wilsons in Tom Morse’s house at 57 Tyler, which had a School dormitory on the third floor, and one house away from ours at 49 Tyler, spanned exactly the period of the School’s greatest peril. Whether the School would survive and who would replace Tom Morse as headmaster were talk of the day. And as he had been after the death of Hal Taylor, Phil Wilson was a leading candidate for headmaster.
Being all close in age, my parents often saw Woody Sayre and his future bride socially. Whether from that connection or some other, my mother after my father’s death recounted that the School had approached Frank Sayre about becoming headmaster before offering the job to Fred Hamilton. However, with the war coming on, the good reverend felt that he could best serve by remaining in the ministry, which led to his assignment as chaplain aboard the Heavy Cruiser U.S.S. San Francisco, one of the most decorated ships of World War II.