Obituaries

Francis Davis Millet, 100, influential Milton Academy teacher

Mr. Millet founded the school’s squash program.
Michael Dwyer/Milton Academy
Mr. Millet founded the school’s squash program.

Not long after arriving as a student at Milton Academy in 1970, Deval Patrick recited Rudyard Kipling’s poem “If” at an assembly and spotted in the audience Frank Millet — a teacher he would come to consider “a mentor and a counselor and a good friend.”

The future Massachusetts governor, who had left his Chicago home to attend the private school, was “scared to death” to be there, but upon finishing saw that his poetry recital had brought tears to Mr. Millet’s eyes.

“That’s the kind of thing that makes a kid like me — or a kid from Nepal — believe that things are going to work out,” Patrick told the Globe in 1993.

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A mentor for generations of students at Milton Academy, where he had taught and lived since he was hired 75 years ago, Mr. Millet was 100 when he died Wednesday, the school said.

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At a gathering this summer to celebrate Mr. Millet’s 100th birthday, former Milton Academy board chairman H. Marshall Schwarz said his “quiet power is rooted in deceptively simple virtues spun out consistently over many hundreds of relationships: He is humble, insightful, honest, caring, witty, and loyal.”

Mr. Millet “has always had an uncanny ability to give students what they need — in a given moment and for a lifetime,” added Schwarz, who in 2002 presented Mr. Millet with the Milton Medal, the school’s most prestigious award. “In a thousand small, thoughtful ways, he has set an example for us about how to listen, and speak, and act — how to live a committed life.”

Well-known for founding the school’s squash program in 1964, Mr. Millet coached the sport until 2007, when he turned 90. According to Milton Academy, he was still winning matches at 89 and playing nearly daily.

Also legendary for his precise handwriting and personal notes, he wrote the names of all graduates in calligraphy on their diplomas until 2012.

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In June, songwriter James Taylor, an alumnus of Milton Academy, was among the 600 people — students, graduates, and friends — who gathered at the school to share memories at the 100th birthday celebration for Mr. Millet.

On that day, Will Speers, a 1975 graduate, read remarks written by Patrick, who was unable to attend.

“I can see the friendly notes of encouragement you sent, always in that marvelous calligraphy; the courtesy you showed my mother on her first uncomfortable visit to the school at graduation, the very same old-school courtliness you showed to the grande dames and legacy families, generations of whom had built the school; the gentle but clear guidance on how to behave and the countless acts of kindness you offered a willing but unfamiliar kid from what seemed like worlds away,” Patrick wrote.

Milton Academy also held an expansive celebration when Mr. Millet turned 90, and a quarter-century ago, he and some 400 guests gathered for his 75th birthday at the Harvard Club. Mr. Millet called it his “first wake” and afterward he wrote calligraphy thank-you notes to each person who had been attended.

During his 90th birthday party at Milton Academy, he shrugged off the praise that speaker after speaker offered. “You almost might believe all that,” he joked, and added: “I’m so glad to see so many of you here.”

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Born in 1917, Francis Davis Millet grew up on Long Island, N.Y., and was the namesake of his grandfather, who became a noted artist and a founder of what is now the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, before dying in the sinking of the Titanic.

Mr. Millet attended the Green Vale School on Long Island and as an eighth-grader enrolled in the Middlesex School in Concord, where he served as editor of The Anvil, the student newspaper, and was elected class president. In 2005, Middlesex School presented him the Henry Cabot Lodge ’20 Distinguished Alumni Award.

It was at Middlesex that Mr. Millet first began playing squash. In a 2006 cover story for Squash magazine, James Zug wrote that Mr. Millet “has what might be a record for squash in America — 75 years after he picked up the game, he is still playing.”

While studying at Harvard College, Mr. Millet was a Latin tutor at Shady Hill School in Cambridge. After graduating in 1940, he taught for two years at a boys’ school in New Mexico before Milton Academy hired him in 1942 as a sixth-grade teacher.

He subsequently became floor master at Robbins House and taught English and classics before turning exclusively to Latin, which he taught from 1968 to 2007. Mr. Millet’s residence was in the dormitories for 29 years, and he then lived on campus until he died.

As Milton Academy worked to diversify its student population, Mr. Millet traveled regularly to Hong Kong as the school’s representative and recruiter, developing enduring relationships with students and their families. During his decades at the school, he also had been an adviser, secretary of the faculty, director of financial aid, and director of admissions.

Ten years ago, Mr. Millet’s friends and former students established the Frank D. Millet Scholarship. The following year, a new dormitory was named Millet House in his honor.

In remarks prepared for Mr. Millet’s 100th birthday celebration this summer, Yuleissy Ramirez, a 2011 Milton Academy graduate and squash standout, recalled visiting him “almost every week in his little brown house, and we would sit and sometimes share his favorite dessert — sugar cookies — while working on puzzles.”

Ramirez added that a favorite memory “was exchanging letters over the summer. He always took the time to respond with his lovely calligraphy.”

In announcing Mr. Millet’s death, Milton Academy said he left no immediate family, and he leaves nieces and nephews, grandnieces and grandnephews, and great-grandnephews.

A funeral Mass will be said at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday in St. Agatha Church in Milton. Burial will be private.

As a tribute to the decades he invested in the squash program, alumni return every spring to compete in what is known as the FDM — Frank Millet’s Graduates’ Invitational Squash Tournament. Also, the US Squash Racquets Association and the Massachusetts Squash Racquets Association named the Frank Millet Junior Championship tour event in his honor.

It was his steady presence at the school, though, that remained the most important memory for graduates such as Patrick.

“You have influenced thousands of lives for the better,” the former governor wrote. “Count mine among them.”

Bryan Marquard can be reached at bryan.marquard@globe.com.