The Road Less Traveled

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Preston Stallings was recognized at the Samuel Miller Dinner on Friday, April 13 with the Samuel Miller Medal for his nearly fifty years of service to MSA and the youth of Albemarle County. The Samuel Miller Medal is the highest honor the school bestows and has been awarded to leaders in Charlottesville for the past twenty-three years. It recognizes one person each year who embodies the generosity and vision of MSA's founder, Samuel Miller.

The Samuel Miller Dinner was held in Old Main on a beautiful spring evening. Mr. Stallings' latest contribution to Miller School of Albemarle is the new main entrance (see video below), which appropriately opened on the same day in honor of Mr. Stallings. 

Read a full transcript of the introduction speech given in honor of Mr. Stallings' service to MSA below.  

The Road Less Traveled: Introduction Remarks in Honor of Preston Stallings

When I learned I had been given the honor of introducing Mr. Preston Stallings tonight, I quickly knew I had some problems: One, I would need assistance crafting this introduction--for Mr. Stallings’ service to Miller School spans nearly fifty years. Moreover, he may well be the most modest man in Albemarle county and would not be all that forthcoming if I asked him to discuss his many contributions to this school. Two, I knew that no matter how much research I did, my remarks, at best, could only offer a small branch of gratitude to a man who has been a “giving tree” to MSA for so many years. I apologize in advance for what can only capture a glimmer of the many rays of Mr. Stallings’ generosity and service to this school and the surrounding community.

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Tonight, I want to talk about a road. We all had the pleasure of driving up a new road this evening--a road that provides safe passage to the Hill and a view of Old Main and Caton Hall that finally does justice to the beauty and majesty of these architectural landmarks. Those of us sitting here are the first to experience the awe of driving up the new road, which from this point forward will be the first impression people have of Miller School. This road is truly worthy of admiration and praise--just like the man who envisioned it and led its construction.

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However, it is not the new main entrance that I’m here to discuss. Rather, I want to talk about “The Road Not Taken.”

I’m an English teacher. I study and teach poetry every year to engaged students from all around the world. One poem that my students frequently choose to memorize for our annual Poetry Out Loud competition is Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken.” I suspect that many of you are familiar with its famous concluding lines:

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Two roads diverged in a wood, and I --

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

Literary critics have offered countless interpretations of this poem and what the road “less traveled by” means. It was, however, not until a few months ago that I began to understand Frost’s “road”--when UVA English professor Mark Edmundson, who happens to live just down the road in Batesville, gave a lecture to our students. The professor spoke about two ways we can live our lives. The first option is to live a life of self. The second option is to live a life of soul. The life of self is the road most people take, and that is normal and understandable, but it is also easier. The life of soul is a road taken less often because it is more difficult. According to Prof. Edmundson it is a life guided by three virtues: courage, wisdom, and compassion.

As I listened to this lecture, I could not help picturing Mr. Stallings driving his silver truck up the road of what this professor referred to as the life of soul, for it is hard to imagine someone who is a better example of a person who has devoted his life to courage, wisdom, and compassion.

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Let’s start with courage.

It is easy to list the many courageous acts that Mr. Stallings has done so far in life. We could talk about how shortly after the death of his father when Preston was only 10-years-old, he packed his bags and left home to live and work at the new and no doubt for him the somewhat intimidating world of what was then called the Miller School of Manual Labor. We could look back to a young man who served his country in the United States Army. We could discuss Mr. Stallings’ courage as a businessman--his willingness to take risk after risk in business and real estate ventures--always having confidence in his own vision and skills to make a project succeed. These would be appropriate topics to discuss tonight, since most overlap with examples of courage that Mr. Stallings shares with Samuel Miller.

However, the example of Mr. Stallings’ courage that is the most relevant to those of us here tonight took place in 1970s. It was courage at its finest, and courage in its purest form. Mr. Stallings stood up for and took care of something that had fallen on bad times and was at its weakest. Preston Stallings, still early in his own career, was called back to his alma mater to help close its doors for good. Miller School, like many schools at the time, was suffering great financial hardships, and its grand buildings were weighed down by years of deferred maintenance. The school had arrived at its saddest moment. The most obvious road to take, and the road taken by most other schools in Virginia at that time, was to close Miller School.

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Fortunately, Mr. Stallings had the courage to stand up for Miller School and use his own resources to protect and preserve his alma mater. Like Samuel Miller, who founded Miller School to help children in Albemarle county who were going through a difficult time, Preston Stallings reached out and lent a hand to a school when most people were looking the other way. Miller School faced “two roads in the woods” in 1970s, and Mr. Stallings led the charge down the one “less traveled by” and “made all the difference in the world.”

Let’s turn now to wisdom

Preston Stallings is one of the most capable, generous, and accomplished sons Miller School has ever produced. In his incredible work ethic and willingness to share his success with others, he reminds me of no one so much as Samuel Miller himself. Mr. Stallings and his brother came from humble beginnings and managed to use their industry and intellect to achieve success. His renown in the Charlottesville region, not to mention state-wide, attests to the high esteem in which professionals hold him. He learned his lessons well at MSA and capitalized on the breadth of his knowledge to become one of the foremost contractors and property managers in Central Virginia. One only has to drive through the Charlottesville-Albemarle area to note the long list of custom homes, apartment complexes, and commercial buildings that Mr. Stallings built. He also served as President of the Virginia Home Builders Association for many years. In talking about his success, Mr. Stallings is quick to point out that he learned many of his skills at Miller School. His knowledge and wisdom are what have made it possible time and again for him to choose “the road less travelled.” While others have taken the easy way out by sticking to conventional paths, Mr. Stallings has had the insight to branch off on his own. Like many, Miller School has benefited from the wisdom of his choices

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And, finally, let’s turn to compassion.

Mr. Stallings is a shining example of the generosity and compassion students develop from their experience at Miller School. He demonstrates daily his dedication to MSA, its mission, and its future.

He has served on the Board of Trustees for over 20 years. In that time he has been a leader by chairing committees, most notably, the Building and Grounds Committee. At one point, when there was an abrupt change in the leadership of the Board, Mr. Stallings agreed to step in on short notice and serve as Board Chair with no fuss and no fanfare. He continues to serve with distinction and oversees every building and capital improvement project on the campus. Those who live, work, or serve on the campus have never known a week when Preston has not been on the campus at least four or five times to check on progress in specific projects. He has been actively involved in many of the key renovations on campus: here in Old Main, the renovation of Alumni Gym, the construction of faculty housing, the retaining wall around the powerhouse, the renovation of the baseball field, and the new entrance road. While Mr. Stallings always helps with a suggestion on how to do things, he is just as quick to roll up his sleeves and pitch in with the physical labor itself. In countless ways, he shows how much he genuinely cares about Miller School.

What might Samuel Miller have said about Preston Stallings? As we all know, Mr. Miller was, like Mr. Stallings, a man of few words.  So he probably would have looked at Mr. Stallings’ life and said a simple: “well done.” But coming from Samuel Miller, those two words would have spoken volumes. If you are lucky enough to know Mr. Stallings personally, you are aware that he too doesn’t need volumes to express his thoughts. Mr. Stallings has let his actions speak louder than his words. In addition to his time and talent, he has contributed great sums to support the work of the school. He is a quiet donor who helps the school when it needs help the most. Many people have no idea how often he and his wife Diane help support the school. In his work as a Board Member, he fulfills one responsibility extremely well by convincing others to donate to the school. When a generous donor came forward to help complete the fundraising for the new entrance road by offering a large sum on a matching basis, Preston and Diane responded immediately to help the school match that gift. On another occasion when he learned that a deserving child had applied to the school, but that the financial aid budget for the year was exhausted, Preston immediately went to someone he knew to secure those funds, so that the child could enroll. Others would have just let things run their course, but, once again, Mr. Stallings set out on the “road less travelled.” 

Mr. France once told me, “You will also notice that Preston has a constant twinkle in his eye, which can disarm tension or help you see that all of this is fun. That twinkle keeps all his great work on an even keel, enabling all of our oars to push forward.”

So, how has Preston Stalling’s decision to “take the road less traveled” made a positive impact on the lives of children in our region? He has helped to preserve and promote one of the finest academic institutions in the country – Miller School of Albemarle. He makes it a habit to know the students, the faculty, the staff, and the administration, all the while offering his solid common sense to solve problems and challenges. He shares his success with individuals and the school at every turn.

Mr. Stallings, because you have taken “the road less traveled by” and lived your life devoted to courage, wisdom, and compassion, you have, in fact, “made all the difference” at the Miller School.

Let us use this moment to recognize one of the finest products of Samuel Miller’s dream – Preston Stallings.

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