Harold Peter Aitken
October 8, 1932 – August 1, 2018
Harold Peter Aitken 1937-2018
Harold Peter Aitken (he preferred “Peter”) was born in London on October 8, 1937. In June 1940, as World War 2 escalated, considerable numbers of British children were being evacuated to USA or other countries for safety, and Peter’s parents decided that Peter, along with his sister Marjorie, and his mother, Madge, expecting her third child, should go too. A medical friend in USA had agreed to welcome and sponsor them, but in the confusion on arrival in New York they were looked after by a representative of Sylvia Warren’s committee for refugees, taken to Boston and very generously cared for there. They lived first in a house in Milton, Mass with three other families, and then in an apartment in Brookline, where Peter went to the Park School. In 1944 return became possible. They sailed to Liverpool then by train to Aberdeen. Peter’s father, Dr. Robert Stevenson Aitken, met the family, now including three year old Eleanor, on the station at Stirling (not knowing until that morning that they were on the way!). Peter’s father and mother were both born in New Zealand, grew up there and went to Otago University College in Dunedin; they both came to Britain in the 1920’s, married, and lived in London until 1938 when he became Regius Professor of Medicine at Aberdeen. In 1948 he was invited to become the Vice Chancellor of Otago University. Thus Peter lived in New Zealand from age eleven to age sixteen and had a deep love of the country.
In 1953 his father was invited to become the Vice-Chancellor of Birmingham University in the UK; he accepted, but it was a difficult decision because he and the family had been so happy in New Zealand. Peter therefore was enrolled in the King Edward VI Grammar School for Boys in Birmingham, where he distinguished himself as a record-breaking swimmer. He was accepted for Balliol College, Oxford University, where he studied mathematics and physics and enjoyed swimming, mountain climbing, tennis and Scottish country dancing among his many pastimes.
Upon graduation in 1959 he became a teacher at Eton College. Peter thoroughly enjoyed his eleven years at Eton. He was a very fine singer – he sang in various choirs all his life – and played piano and French horn with distinction. He was an excellent tennis player, preferring mixed doubles, and was a fiendish bridge player. He climbed mountains in many countries. He was in charge of the Eton Territorial Army and embarked on many adventures with his three hundred cadets, organizing annual camps in Norway and the Hebrides. In 1969 Peter was married to Adelaide VanAntwerp MacMurray at Washington Cathedral, Washington D.C. and in 1971 they moved from Eton to Massachusetts where Peter spent two years at head of physics at Beaver Country Day School before being appointed Headmaster of Brooks School, North Andover, MA. Two sons were born – Alexander in 1974, James in 1980. In 1985 the family spent a year in Oxford for Peter’s sabbatical from Brooks, and during that year he obtained a PhD in Learning Development from Harvard. During his time Brooks transformed from a boys’ school to co-educational. In 1985 Peter decided to retire as Headmaster of Brooks and after a year or two in consulting and head-hunting, he set up his own consulting and research enterprise, Benchmark Research, evolving a management tool to assist school governors and heads in over a hundred independent schools across the US and in several other countries. He and Adelaide owned property in New Hampshire where he loved to hike, ski and work the land. In 2001 he became a US citizen, but never lost his strong ties to New Zealand, England ad Scotland, (especially Skye). He took flying lessons and loved the freedom of the skies. He was an overseer of New England Conservatory, and he established the US branch of the very successful NGO then called Student Partnerships Worldwide (now Restless Development). He was an active member of the Tavern Club, participating in many theatricals. In 2007 he married Anne Carter, and they moved to Cape Cod.
Peter was diagnosed with glioblastoma multiforme in 2015 and fought it valiantly, finally passing away peacefully at his home in Sandwich on August 1, supported by his wife and closest friends, and his sons at his side. He is remembered with love by his wife Anne, by his partner of 36 years, Adelaide MacMurray-Cooper; by son Alex and Naomi and their children Maxwell, Gavin and Emily; son James and Sara and their children Gabriel, Russell and Colette; stepdaughter Emily, Neal and children Nettle and James; and stepson David.
Those wishing to donate in his memory are invited to contribute to the Hospice https://www.hopehealthco.org/ways-to-give/memorial-giving/, or to the Waldorf School of Cape Cod in honor of his eight grandchildren https://www.waldorfschoolofcapecod.org/donate/