Writer, teacher and Santa Barbara International Film Festival Executive Director Roger Durling ’82 has come a long way from his home country of Panama. Peddie was his first stop on the road to an exuberant and authentic life, and he credits a favorite faculty member for giving him the courage to be whoever and whatever he chose to be.
“The first person I met at Peddie was Jeff (“Harry”) Holcombe, the hall advisor in my dorm, Kerr,” said Durling. “He coached me, gave me so much personal time. He encouraged me to be myself, encouraged self-expression. He got me out of my shell and comfort zone, encouraged me to try out for plays.”
Holcombe, Peddie’s drama teacher, urged Durling to audition for the Reeves Speaking Contest, and the shy kid who spoke little English just a year or so earlier was happily surprised when, the second time he competed, he took first place.
“My topic was about being different, and ‘Don’t judge a book by its cover,’ Durling said. “As I spoke, I filled a black balloon with air, representing every assumption about a person. I had a pin hidden in my jacket. Once you realize these words are just adjectives, I popped the balloon. All that’s left is hot air.”
I wanted to make sure the trips that were magical and instrumental to me continued.
Within the safety of the Peddie community and Holcombe’s broad-minded support, Durling was able to make a brave personal acknowledgment as well.
“I came out while I was at Peddie. Harry’s encouragement was an emblematic exchange: When I told him I was gay, he said, ‘Who cares? Don’t hold yourself back,’” Durling remembered.
When Durling arrived at Peddie, he had never seen live theater but took his first trip to Broadway on one of Holcombe’s regularly organized student trips. It was an opportunity to see what professional shows and superlative storytelling looked like, and Durling was forever changed. Years later, he recalled a conversation he had with Holcombe about the future of Peddie’s theater trips.
“He told me about the need for a donor to help with the cost. I said, ‘I’ll do it.’ I wanted to make sure the trips that were magical and instrumental to me continued. I eventually made a pledge to fund an endowment so Peddie will have funds for it in perpetuity,” emphasized Durling. For almost two decades hundreds of Peddie students have benefitted from Durling’s gift – getting their first taste of Broadway while on a drama club trip.
In appreciation for his influential theater teacher, Durling supports the Jeffrey “Harry” Holcombe Endowed Fund for the Arts by designating Peddie as the beneficiary of a portion of his IRA, making him a member of Peddie’s Bell Society. The fund provides support for the arts department, and particularly for Peddie’s theater program. Holcombe’s legacy of thinking big and living large lives on at Peddie, and as a planned gift donor, Durling is part of that legacy too.
Durling, who joined the Peddie Board of Trustees in 2017, continues to take a personal interest in the arts at his alma mater, often returning to lead a class at the Swig Arts Center.
“What I am most delighted about at Peddie is that it encourages you to try new things, experience other forms of education,” he said. “I see that happening today when I talk to students who have exposure to the different facets of their capabilities. It’s brilliant.”