Meg Dexter would not have traded the experience of having her father, Arthur Dexter, as her high school principal.
“He was very good about keeping the two worlds separate,” Meg Dexter, of Arundel, said. “At times I’m sure he would have loved to be my principal at home or my dad at school, but he worked very hard to make sure that never happened.”
Arthur Dexter, of Newcastle, served as the principal at Lincoln Academy for 17 years, from 1967 to 1984. He passed away Monday afternoon, Jan. 25, at the age of 83.
“It is with great sadness that we learned of Arthur Dexter’s passing,” Lincoln Academy Head of School David Sturdevant said in a statement Tuesday morning, Jan. 26.
“Soon after I arrived at LA, Arthur came into my office to greet me and welcome me to the school,” Sturdevant said. “I last saw Arthur at the class of 1975 reunion this past summer. It was a true testament to his character and dedication to the academy that he stayed in touch with his former students through the years, and that they invited him to their events as their guest.”
Before he came to Lincoln Academy, Arthur Dexter began his career at Kents Hill School in 1954, where he taught, coached, and was the dean of boys and assistant to the headmaster. In 1965, he began teaching and coaching at Gould Academy.
In 1967, Arthur Dexter became the principal at Lincoln Academy. During his 17-year tenure, he created and coached the soccer team, expanded the academy’s facilities, and guided the school during a time of social change in the country.
“He changed the climate of the high school and brought us into the new time right off the bat,” said Phil Page, a 1970 graduate of Lincoln Academy and longtime faculty and staff member.
However, it wasn’t just the changes to the school and facility Arthur Dexter was known for, but the impact he had on the students and faculty members he served.
“He always met a person where they were,” Meg Dexter said. “He knew that not everyone was going down the same path, and he wanted to help people be successful in whatever way that meant to them.”
Lincoln Academy Board of Trustees President Ann McFarland had the chance to experience Arthur Dexter as a principal. McFarland graduated from Lincoln Academy in 1973, during the middle of his tenure.
“He seemed to have a really amazing grasp on how to work with students,” McFarland said. “He was always so understanding and compassionate. He was very special to the school and community.”
While Daniel Day did not have Arthur Dexter as a principal during his time at Lincoln Academy, Day did teach industrial arts at the school while Arthur Dexter was principal.
“When I started, we had a really young staff with a lot of us in our 20s; luckily, Arthur had a very good sense of humor and a lot of patience,” Day said.
In the mornings, Arthur Dexter would gather a group of teachers to go to the CLC YMCA at 5:30 a.m. to play a game of racquetball before the academy opened for the day.
“I knew he was a good athlete, but I was pretty young at the time and thought for sure I’d be able to take him,” Day said. “I don’t think I ever beat him once. He would destroy me every time, and would rarely break a sweat doing it.”
Marian Swift served as the school secretary for 15 years during Arthur Dexter’s tenure at the school. She said he always had a calm disposition.
“It was a very enjoyable 15 years,” Swift said. “I can’t pick out a specific moment or memory, but working with someone like Arthur for 15 years was just wonderful.”
It was not just faculty members Arthur Dexter would face off against. When students were in the gym in the morning, Arthur Dexter would sometimes challenge a student a dollar or two about whether or not he could make a half-court shot.
“More often than not, he’d make it,” Meg Dexter said.
As much as he enjoyed having fun with the students, Meg Dexter said her father was also known for being fair. He would get a specific, stern look in his eye, which was when students recognized he was being serious.
“Whenever one of my friends would get called to the office, they would ask me, ‘I’m going to see your dad, what do I do?'” Meg Dexter said. “I always told them to tell the truth, because chances are he already knew what it was you did.”
One of Arthur Dexter’s favorite school events was graduation. One year, the scheduled graduation speaker had to back out at the last second. Without hesitation, Arthur Dexter volunteered, Day said.
“I cannot tell you what he said that day, and I’m pretty sure it was off the cuff, but I remember being just amazed,” Day said. “He sent those kids out the door on a high note.”
The 1980 graduation was also special, as it was the year Meg Dexter graduated. Forgoing the usual handshake or high-five, Arthur Dexter gave his daughter a hug.
“I’m pretty sure he was my principal and my dad then,” Meg Dexter said.
After retiring from Lincoln Academy in 1984, Arthur Dexter kept busy with a number of jobs and volunteer opportunities. He served as the director of adult education for School Union 74, as president of the CLC YMCA Board of Directors, and on a variety of municipal and educational boards and committees.
He also volunteered for Meals on Wheels and took a job delivering flowers for a time, Meg Dexter said.
Arthur Dexter was diagnosed with kidney cancer 10 years ago. A few years after a successful treatment, the cancer returned. Two years ago, he was diagnosed with stage four kidney cancer that could not be treated.
“He was determined to live every second to its fullest,” Sarah Matel, Arthur Dexter’s stepdaughter, said. “I don’t think he slowed down at all.”
He met with friends for a weekly poker game, which he called “choir practice,” and regularly attended sporting events at Lincoln Academy, where he would be flocked with a barrage of friends, former students, and well-wishers, Matel said.
He also continued to attend special events at the school, such as the Lincoln Academy Sports Hall of Fame induction ceremonies. In April 2014, Arthur Dexter attended the groundbreaking for the academy’s Cable-Burns Applied Technology and Engineering Center.
His grandson, Seward Matel, was senior class president and introduced U.S. Sen. Susan Collins at the ceremony. Collins released a statement about Arthur Dexter’s passing Tuesday evening, Jan. 26.
“Arthur Dexter was a wonderful community and state leader, who was truly committed to public service and to education,” Collins said in a statement. “I first got to know Arthur when he was a member of the Maine Real Estate Commission in the late 1980s, and I was serving as commissioner of the department in which it was located.”
“He was a terrific member: diligent, down-to-earth, devoted to his work, and utterly delightful. Arthur was a great friend to all of us who were privileged to know him. My heart goes out to his family.”
Arthur Dexter also enjoyed visiting the academy any chance he had.
“Whenever we were in the car, he would say ‘Oh, let’s go check out the new turf,’ or he would come up with some reason we should drive by the school,” Meg Dexter said. “We must have visited that field so many times!”
When Arthur Dexter was admitted into the hospital this past weekend, a note was made on his chart to expect a large gathering of people, Meg Dexter said.
“There was a steady flow of visitors coming in and out of that room, and he was always trying to make them laugh,” Meg Dexter said.
“He was always worried about how everyone else was doing, even when he was the one lying in the hospital bed,” Meg Dexter said. “When he was writing his obituary, he was trying to make it not about him.”
Despite being approached by former students, staff members, and community members, Meg Dexter said her father was always humble about the number of lives he touched.
“When we first suggested having the memorial service in the gym, he said there wouldn’t be that many people there,” Meg Dexter said. “I don’t think he actually knew his impact.”
A memorial service and celebration of life commemorating Arthur Dexter will be held at the Lincoln Academy gymnasium on Sunday, Jan. 31 at 1 p.m., with a reception immediately following in the school’s dining commons.