HOTSEAT- Barnes-storming: Miller School head catches a wave

Lindsay Barnes

Lindsay Barnes Jr.'s Charlottesville roots go deep: born and raised here, a former City Councilor and lawyer, head of the Miller School. No matter; he's about to chuck it all. Come June, Barnes will trade his Miller School necktie for a flowery Hawaiian shirt as he takes one of the sweetest headmaster gigs in the world: Hawaii Preparatory Academy on the Big Island.

It's not the first time Barnes has gone Hawaiian, so to speak. 

After practicing law for 18 years, at age 48 he left the courtroom to preside over the classroom when the Miller School needed a headmaster. "The learning curve was pretty steep," he admits. 

Barnes' early acumen in riflery, bowling, and camping over six summers at Camp Wahoo at the Miller School didn't presage his later return to run the place.

"I'd always had a real affection for the Miller School," Barnes says in the spacious headmaster's office with a guitar in the corner. When then-Governor George Allen asked him to sit on the school's board in 1997, Barnes agreed. And when the headmaster left two years later and a couple of members approached him about the position, he took the leap.

"I'd done all I wanted to do with law," he says. Nine years later, he calls his stint at the school "the most rewarding professional experience in my life." 

When his lawyer buddies ask him if he misses the money, he says yes. But he adds, "I tell them I get paid in different currency, and they know exactly what I mean." And he sure doesn't miss "the tedium of law" and keeping track of his days in five-minute blocks of billable hours.

Miller School presented a whole new set of challenges– and new life. He lives in a mansard-roofed Victorian on campus, and discovered he can't really leave his work at the office. Even family meals are taken in the dining hall. "I love it," he says. "I love the food here. So does [wife] Nancy. I had a 31-inch waist when I came here, and now it's 34 inches, approaching 35."

Samuel Miller, who founded the school in 1878 to educate orphans, placed an emphasis on working with one's hands ("We have a state-of-the-art wood shop," beams Barnes). By 1950, students were no longer 100 percent on scholarship, and today, they're not necessarily orphans– although 35 percent receive financial aid.

Two movies– Major Payne and Toy Soldiers– have been shot on the gothic campus, perhaps leading to the common misperception that the institution is a military school.

Another is that the school is the place for maladjusted youths. "That's a lingering perception we still run into," says Barnes. "If we see significant behavioral problems on the application, we're not the place for that student."

Miller School is coed, and the school is very successful in sending its students– now 150 strong– to college, he says. "Of our 41 seniors, 100 percent are going to college, and many to their first choices."

Barnes (who shares the name and is, in fact, the father of Hook staff writer Lindsay Barnes III)  is going to his first choice, taking a position coveted by many. 

He shares the wisdom he's gleaned from shepherding teens through high school: "Stand back and observe, and don't make quick judgments unless it's a matter of health or safety. Always remember, those frontal lobes are still developing."

Age: 57 (but feeling younger!)

Why here? Luck of the draw

What's worst about living here? Entering and exiting Charlottesville along Route 29, and a creeping "snootiness" in Charlottesville culture 

Favorite hangout? With an acoustic guitar in hand, just about any quiet space

Most overrated virtue? Proudly speaking for those of us who are follically challenged, the strength that supposedly emanates from a full head of hair is a most overrated virtue!

People would be surprised to know: Six great friends and I have played rock 'n roll music together for 37 years (well, it's "music" to us, anyway!).

What would you change about yourself? I'd alter my work personality from Type A to Type B+ .

Proudest accomplishment? My nine years of service as the headmaster at Miller School, an absolutely wonderful experience; what an honor and privilege it's been! 

People find most annoying about you: My speaking voice can sometimes be a little too loud.

Whom do you admire? Barry Goldwater and Barack Obama (how's that for a combination?)

Favorite book? Usually, whatever I'm reading at the time. I thought John Grisham's nonfiction The Innocent Man was outstanding. Anyone who seeks to understand small-town law should read this book. 

Subject that causes you to rant? America's increasing obsession with celebrity purely for the sake of celebrity. Also, misuse of the word "hero." Real heroes are few and far between.

Biggest 21st-century thrill? Sorry, but it's all I can do to emerge from the 20th! I still have a VCR, and it still blinks "12:00... 12:00... 12:00..."

Biggest 21st-century creep out? The demeaning way in which women are often depicted in certain pockets of American popular "culture" (a term I use advisedly).

What do you drive? 1985 Saab 900 (when my wife won't let me have our 2007 Camry)

In your car CD player right now: A remastered version one of the best live albums ever, Van Morrison's It's Too Late to Stop Now

Next journey? In June, to Waimea, Hawai'i, to become headmaster of Hawai'i Preparatory Academy

Most trouble you've ever gotten in? Using the word "bastard" at the age of 10 and not having the foggiest idea of its meaning (I did have a pretty good idea about the meaning of the spanking that followed, however.)

Regret: Letting a draft lottery number in the 200s dissuade me from seriously considering a tour of duty in the military

Favorite comfort food: Tostitos and Chi-Chi's fiesta salsa

Always in your refrigerator:  At least some flavor of Breyer's Ice Cream

Must-see TV:  House (a worthy heir to St. Elsewhere in the 1980s)

Describe a perfect day:  A run in the country with my Irish setter, a motorcycle ride on central Virginia backroads, lunch at Bodo's, a UVA baseball game at Davenport Field, dinner on the downtown mall with my family, a great movie at Vinegar Hill Theater, then back home for a few side porch minutes with the guitar

Walter Mitty fantasy: Experiencing a perfect day

Who'd play you in the movie? Jack Lemmon (were he alive!)

Most embarrassing moment? When serving on the Charlottesville City Council in the 1980s, I once made a speech with my fly open. What a smooth move that was.

Best advice you ever got? Be a good listener; then, become a better one.

Favorite bumper sticker?  AUH2O-64 (still an all-time classic)