A "Little Engine That Could" story
From the Peddie Chronicle Spring/Summer 2018 issue
When Susan James was hired by Peddie in 1993 to help guide the school’s public relations, little did she know that a $100 million gift from Walter Annenberg was on the horizon. “Not only did the gift transform the school, but it was an exciting way to start a 15-year career at Peddie,” said James.
When James found out that Annenberg would be attending the dedication of Peddie’s new high-tech library in May, she took the opportunity to gather footage of Annenberg on campus that she could use later when pitching the story of the gift to major news outlets. “Talk about visuals,” said James. “Walter was in his Tudor bonnet flanked by faculty in mortarboards processing in gowns across our spring campus to the Chapel.”
Peddie held a press conference at the new Walter H. Annenberg Library on the day of the official gift announcement. James remembers that Tom DeGray’s wife, Ellen, helped her send out hundreds of faxes announcing the event to news outlets.
On the morning of the event, trucks from WABC, WNBC and others set up their broadcast trucks in front of Annenberg Hall. CNN’s Jeanne Moos was first on the scene to corral students for interviews. “Brian Davidson [Alumni & Development] still remembers her opener,” said James. “Moos said, ‘Walter Annenberg made a $100 million gift to the Peddie School, and there’s nothing petty about it.’ I remember her kicker at the end of the broadcast: ‘not a lot of pomp, but boy, what great circumstances!”
The news coverage continued for close to a week, including Tom DeGray’s live via satellite interview with Paula Zahn of “CBS This Morning.” Multiple news outlets showed the now iconic image of a bed sheet that students hung on the front gates with a simple message, “Wow! Thanks, Walt!”
Peddie received more news coverage that day than Harvard College, the University of Southern California and the University of Pennsylvania, all of which received comparable gifts that same day from Annenberg. James: “Peddie was the small, little-known ‘non-preppy prep school.’ Now, our endowment would enable us to give scholarships to students from diverse backgrounds. It was a ‘Little Engine That Could’ story.”