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A Life: Lawrence E. ‘Larry’ Drew, 1932-2018; ‘He Always Found Creative Ways to Push Me’

  • Larry Drew, 81, of Bradford, Vt., calls out the names of Race Around the Lake winners at Camp Billings in Thetford, Vt. Saturday, July 26, 2014. Drew, currently the maintenance director at the camp, has been Athletic Director, Assistant Camp Director and held several other positions at the camp in his 46 years there. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Thetford cross country coach Larry Drew protects Woodsville's Ken Gover from the rain white the two walk the course before a race in Thetford, Vt., on Oct. 23, 1990. (Valley News - Bill Conradt) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • At the 25th annual Woods Trail Run in Thetford, Vt., in 2015, Thetford Academy cross country coach Larry Drew stands with Emily Grossman Reilly, who won the first and third races held there. (Dan Grossman photograph)



Valley News Staff Writer
Sunday, January 20, 2019

Bradford, Vt. — Larry Drew told them corny, concise jokes before, during and after practice, and they always laughed, anyway.

The hundreds of students who ran cross-country and competed in track and field for Thetford Academy between 1971 and 2002 also heard Drew issue terse instructions in that Bradford-Yankee accent — usually something along the lines of “Hurry back” — many times at the starting line of races around the Upper Valley and the rest of New England.

“He was never a loud, pep-talk sort of coach,” Caleb Masland, co-captain of the Thetford boys squad that won the Vermont Division III team cross country title in 1998, said last week. “He taught us to be tough competitors before race day arrived so that we could go out and execute calmly when it mattered.”

And Drew, who died on Dec. 2, 2018, 13 days shy of his 86th birthday, rarely raised his voice to his runners even while reading them the riot act.

Take the second Friday of November 1998: Two weeks earlier, Masland and company had won Drew his third state team title for boys and thus qualified Thetford for the New England championship. In the basement of the academy’s old gym, on the eve of the race, Drew as usual loosened everybody up with stories after their last workout.

At the end of the bull session, then-assistant coach Joe Deffner recalled last week, the boys took the elevator to the ground floor while the coaches took the stairs. At the top, Drew and Deffner learned that one of the runners had stormed out and rushed away after a bout of harsh teasing by a couple of teammates.

“Larry didn’t yell at them or ask a lot of questions,” said Deffner, who succeeded Drew in 2003. “He just said, ‘Well, you’ve got something you’ve got to make right before tomorrow.’ We never found out exactly how they made it up to the kid, but he was at the race the next day. He admitted he was furious, but said ‘I knew it wouldn’t be fair to the coaches not to run.’ That was how Larry got the job done. I wish I were more like that at times.

“He was very much the man of few words.”

Larry Drew applied that economy of speech not only in his roles as a coach and a math teacher — including pre-Thetford stints at Bradford Academy, his alma mater, and before then in Barre — but as a longtime summer counselor at Camp Billings and as an involved citizen of Bradford, where he served terms on the Planning Commission and Water-Sewer Board.

And where he scrutinized every request in the budget at Town Meeting.

“Ten or so years ago, we asked for $400 for an energy committee,” longtime Bradford conservation commissioner Nancy Jones said. “Larry stood up and said, ‘What’s the big deal with energy conservation?

“I already know how to screw in a light bulb.’”

Drew waxed kinder and gentler with his runners, his students and his campers than with grown-ups.

“He would look for kids who needed cross country,” Deffner said. “He saw something in them, whether it was a difficult home life or just a kid who needed direction. If a kid wasn’t getting to practice on time, he’d talk privately with them after practice, ask what was going on. I can think of any number of kids he really made sure stayed around rather than just writing them off, the way a lot of people would. They were the ones where he’d say, ‘They need cross-country way more than we need them.

“ ‘We can help this kid.’”

Drew never needed to motivate Emily Grossman to stick with the program, while the gangly girl from East Thetford ran away with three individual state titles and a New England championship in cross country, and still more crowns in track, in the early 1990s.

The trick was talking the then-seventh-grader into running, period.

“He started working on me after he found out that I’d run the fastest mile of anybody, boys or girls, in gym class for the presidential physical-fitness program,” Emily Grossman Reilly said last week from Ashland, Mass., where she lives with her husband and their two daughters. “At the time, running did not seem fun. It was not interesting to me.

“When I signed up to run track in seventh grade, it was partly to get him off my back.”

By November of 1990, her freshman year, Grossman was asking her coach to work her harder still, the better to prepare, as the new champion of Vermont girls, for the New England meet.

“We would run to the Union Village Dam to warm up, and then he would turn around to run back up Academy Road,” Grossman Reilly said. “I had to sprint, scramble and stumble up the sheer, shale-covered face of the dam, run around and back down, and then try to catch him before he got back to TA.

“He always found creative ways to push me.”

Until her former coach died, Grossman Reilly didn’t fully appreciate how many middle- and back-of-the-pack runners, and math students, Drew had encouraged to keep going on the trail, on the track and in the classroom.

“When I posted the news and my thoughts about him on Facebook, I expected maybe three people to comment, and the next thing I knew, it was past 40,” she said. “And it was shared, like, 20 times.

“It showed how much people think of him, how many people he touched, some I didn’t even know. It goes deep, way beyond the running and the math. He supported a lot of kids, a lot of different kids.””

At the front of the pack of Facebook commenters, 1994 graduate Jim Solger described Drew as “a truly life-changing individual” who “in addition to cross country ... got me my first real job working maintenance at Camp Billings every summer. We had more fun together those summers than we should have.”

Dan Grossman smiles every time he thinks of the long-retired Larry Drew returning to campus for meets and recognizing the names and the faces of long-graduated Thetford Panthers bringing their own children to compete on the Thetford course.

“There was never much time for me to talk with him because all these former students were stopping him and saying hello,” said Grossman, who organized cross-country meets for the academy for years after daughter Emily graduated.

“He’d say, ‘Hi! How are you? What are you doing now? Isn’t that something? Isn’t that something?’”

David Corriveau can be reached at dcorriveau@vnews.com and at 603-727-3304.