Alumni News

Verum. Bonum. Pulchrum.
Posted 01/10/2020 10:00AM

Chris Hyland at TASIS in the 1960s

One of the joys of our work is learning about the depth and breadth of exceptional things our alumni are doing. We are constantly in awe of the dedication and commitment our alumni have in their particular corners of the world.

Occasionally, we come across people who transcend all expectations. 

Christopher Hyland ’66 has lived a life worthy of a film. He has been involved with events that span the globe, from historical to home furnishings, from politics to culture. He has guest edited issues of The Robb Report and Shelter (now Interiors). His NBC/LXTV segment “Grey Gardens” was nominated for a local Emmy. A Georgetown University School of Foreign Service graduate, he holds honorary degrees from Savannah College of Art and Design, the New York School of Interior Design, and Kiev Economic University for championing the credit union movement in Ukraine. He received a Saint Patrick Award for fostering peace in Ireland and a Chief of Mission Award for Excellence in recognition of his efforts to foster bilateral relations between the United States and Malta, for which he serves as an Honorary Consul in America. He is an avid sailor, walker, skier, furniture designer, and photographer. He is an outspoken political pundit and is committed to encouraging kindness and tolerance globally. 

After a tour of active duty in the US National Guard, Christopher began studying at the Episcopal Theological School in Cambridge, Massachusetts, which had a cross-registration arrangement with Harvard University and Weston Jesuit School of Theology, enabling him to take graduate courses in theology, neurology, international politics, and education, among others. Influenced by the merchant culture of his hometown of Salem, Massachusetts, and by the story of the silk merchant Medici family that he learned of at TASIS, he founded Christopher Hyland, Inc., an exclusive home furnishings firm that specializes in textiles from around the world that are exclusively woven for his firm.

Chris Hyland at TASIS in the 1960s

In his own words: “Pursuing interests in the realms of sport, art, culture, business, politics, civic society, friendship, and faith have resulted in a full and happy life, one that was much enhanced by my TASIS experiences, with Mrs. Fleming a formidable part of creating this personal legacy.”

Christopher’s CV reads like a diplomat’s. He was instrumental in early discussions that led to the Good Friday Agreement, and he advocates for marginalized groups at the very top of American and international political life. His decades of activism have made a massive impact, and he’s the first to say that TASIS played a vital role in determining his life’s work. “I had a great TASIS roommate in Bill Quinn ’66,” he said. “One Christmas, his father, a US Army general, outlined for me in great detail the geopolitical situation of the Eurasian landmass; this during the height of the Cold War. TASIS clearly, literally, opened for me doors to diverse global viewpoints.”

Like many TASIS students, Christopher arrived in Switzerland with robust energy and curiosity, and his TASIS years were critical to his life trajectory. Mrs. Fleming’s devotion to verum, bonum, pulchrum left a deep mark on Christopher, and he continues to rally around these truths. “I have no illusions about the world, which is animated by and sadly driven by forces anathema to the Good,” he said. “The citizen should pursue the beauty found not only in the plastic arts but in the successful formation of fruitful interaction with their fellows, one that reinforces community, where all flourish, where each person may be their best, may achieve their best.”

In a life punctuated by time abroad and a lengthy tenure in New York City, Christopher remains realistic and focused on spreading his message of tolerance, peace, and goodness.

Chris Hyland at the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences

Christopher’s Legacies

Christopher’s colorful life has resulted in some remarkable achievements. He is meticulous about balancing the time he gives to the projects that inspire him. Below are a few of the endeavors that he has found most fulfilling. 

Founding Christopher Hyland Incorporated (CHI), the textile emporium, and HYLANDMagazine
Christopher has been described as “the last Salem merchant”—both his eponymous firm and beautifully designed magazine have had lasting influence on the interior design industry. 

Laying groundwork for the Irish Good Friday Agreement
During his tenure as Deputy National Political Director of a winning US presidential campaign, he actively encouraged direct US involvement in furthering the peace process in Ireland, a seminal change in US/UK policy. Despite criticism, Christopher’s work eventually led to the Good Friday Agreement negotiated by his friend Senator George Mitchell. 

Keeping tolerance and inclusion at the forefront by organizing and facilitating Presidential Transition Conferences
Topics have included homelessness, nonprofits, design, veterans, disabilities, Eastern Europe, and Ireland. “Much national policy was influenced by these discussions,” Christopher recalls. “As moderator of these conferences I recall channeling my dad and our great TASIS teacher Robert Wilson, who led dynamic literature discussions.”

Refusing to bow to political and peer pressure to exclude certain communities from political fundraising and events
In his numerous roles, Christopher has been asked by presidential campaign political leaders to exclude certain Americans from fundraising and events due to ethnic, racial, lifestyle, and religious backgrounds. “I steadfastly refused, even when directly ordered to do so,” he said. “I recalled what Martin Luther King told me when I asked him how I could help the civil rights cause. Dr. King replied to me in a heartbeat: ‘Look evil in the eye and give it no succor.’ To form part of Dr. King’s ethos and to espouse love for all humanity has been a life tenet. Such a tenet need not be an ideal; one lives it, one breathes it.”

Commissioning a mass in concert as an homage to “all who seek peace, understanding, and acceptance of diversity”
Christopher is a great lover of music. Implementing a childhood aspiration he shared with Conductor Arthur Fiedler, he commissioned Maestro Joseph Vella to write The Hyland Mass (named such at Vella’s insistence), which has been performed three times, most recently in 2016 by the New York Choral Society and Orchestra and the Saint Patrick’s Choir at Saint Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City. “Regrettably, Maestro Vella recently died just as he was about to begin composing music for 22 songs I wrote to form part of a song cycle oratorio plus a vast work to celebrate America that was to be performed at a rodeo,” Christopher noted. “It incorporates countless styles: only four narrative songs and rap songs remain to be authored. With a very heavy heart, I will find another composer.” A second commission—a Hyland March for Bagpipes, Drums, and Horns in three parts—was completed in 2019. Christopher recalls a conversation with Mrs. Fleming after an evening at La Scala where he insisted he would, one day, commission something as worthy as Mozart. “You do it, Christopher,” she said. “Never forget it!”

Restoring Ft. Saint Angelo in Malta
During his visits to Malta while a student at TASIS, Christopher conceived the idea to return Ft. San Angelo to the Order of Malta, allowing for the fortress’s restoration so that it could be used for humanitarian purposes. He was appointed a Special Commissioner to work alongside Maltese politicians and leaders of the Order to return the fortress to the Knights of Malta, who subsequently began restoring it. This fulfilled a childhood dream “which began in the third floor playroom of our house when I played Fort Saint Angelo and Fort Saint Elmo with wooden blocks.”

Realizing a lifelong dream to build a city
HYLANDTOWN, near Mead in Weld County, Colorado, espouses Omnirural and Omniurban design concepts developed by Christopher and the Weld County Land Investors. Currently in the planning stage, the city scheme is influenced by Christopher’s experiences growing up in Salem and Marblehead, Massachusetts, and at TASIS, where as a student he envisioned a new village, and continues to be inspired by David Mayernik’s Global Village design. With magnificent views of the Front Range and Long’s Peak, HYLANDTOWN is a fascinating development project. 

Curating a broad, very personal art collection
As in the other areas of his life, Christopher has eschewed the advice of professionals with his art collection. He feels his diverse photography collection “represents the tastes of a private collector and not that of commercial dealers forming a collection.” Indeed it has been the subject of three museum exhibitions, most recently at the American Museum in Britain, where it was on display during the London Olympics and the Queen’s Jubilee. 

Christopher stands in front of a portrait of himself as a young man

Christopher stands in front of a portrait of himself as a young man, painted by renowned
Impressionist Henry Hensche. The work is considered one of Hensche’s finest.

Sustaining a deep, abiding faith in the message of love and acceptance of all
Above all, Christopher is a romantic. His personal relationship has been sustained for more than 42 years, and he has always lived by the ethos of inclusivity, which extends to his life and faith. “Each person in form and nature is a wonderful, Grace-filled creation—a message of hope that has resonated among us for over two thousand years,” he said. 

 

Mrs. Fleming’s Legacies: TASIS, A Waystation to a Greater World

Christopher penned this powerful essay on the impact that TASIS and Mrs. Fleming had on his life. Enjoy his words; we hope they resonate as much as they did with us. 

TASIS was my choice: I literally checked myself into TASIS, my parents only learning of my decision when I telephoned them from—if my memory is correct—Mrs. Fleming’s house. With a 55-year perspective on the decision, I continue to think that it was a fortuitous and grace-filled decision to matriculate at TASIS. It was the perfect milieu for a schoolboy keenly interested in the broad world in which to flourish, just the correct amalgamation of enough: intellectual depth, great teachers; diverse activity; sport; access to diverse cultures, all set in a built world of beauty and charm, even more so today. TASIS was pregnant with opportunity, and I was ready and willing to immerse myself. 

During my two years at TASIS I read each book Mr. Wilson gave us, enjoyed soccer and winter term skiing, was Editor in Chief of Foreign Correspondence—years later telling [former Washington Post executive editor] Ben Bradlee that it was my version of the Herald Tribune—and President of the Student Council, a group of us giving that body form and function.

One personality permeated every aspect of TASIS life: Mrs. Fleming. Her stylish taste in clothing and jewelry augmented her considerable physical presence, heightened by distinctive facial features and hair that were simultaneously imposing, distinguished and beautiful. She was an orator of considerable ability; years later Margaret Thatcher would remind me of Mrs. Fleming. Both of them raised their arms in a decisive yet benign manner when making a salient point and both spoke in clear strong tones, imparting wisdom in a manner that was both convincing and memorable.

In the dignified drawing room of Villa De Nobili, Mrs. Fleming, inspired in part by having recently seen the Broadway musical Stop the World—I Want to Get Off, gave an impassioned talk about the importance of each of us realizing seminal moments in our lives, knowing what they offer and what they mean. She urged us to develop the wisdom to know when in life to stop, take stock of what we were doing, and continue on the same path or for the better, alter the way, finding a new, more secure, more happy, more fulfilling direction. I still see her and hear her ever so clearly: “Each one of you should,” her dangling gold talisman bracelet-laden arm charting the path to be taken in the air space just before her regal countenance, “stop the world, get off, look long and hard, ask, do you have purpose, do you have dignity, have you risen to the occasion with your best effort?” 

I recall Mrs. Fleming’s words often together with those of other influential voices in my life, beyond those of my always insightful parents: the immediate reply Dr. Martin Luther King gave to me when I asked him how I could help: “Give evil no succor”; the words of Professor Carroll Quigley, “Tomorrow can be better than today and we have an individual responsibility to make it so.”

Mrs. Fleming espoused beauty in the built world, such already expressed in the more intimate Montagnola campus I knew, now more fully realized on a visionary scale. Mrs. Fleming beautifully expressed in a series of buildings at once seemingly an organic expression realized over generations, but on closer examination all quite deliberate, recently constructed, all in balance, in perspective, to human scale, pregnant with complex design gestures, both playful, amusing and serious, all there to be discovered. The entire enterprise is a built-world expression of Mrs. Fleming’s ethos. To this site form, shape, and beauty are infused as well as humor and serendipity, much as Mrs. Fleming conveyed these precious gifts to each of her students to be further nurtured and grow throughout their long lives.

Mrs. Fleming gave just enough order to our lives, always encouraging adventure and an outward view, inculcating in us an awareness of the rich and uniquely special aspects of a wide range of Western Civilization’s most cherished and important aspects.

I was an open vessel, already possessing much good content, ready to accept still more. TASIS and Mrs. Fleming added that much more, for which I am eternally grateful. I am reminded of these gifts in so many daily activities, now comprising over half a century. Mrs. Fleming prepared us for being at ease in a world we were very much meant to contribute to, each according to opportunity presented, each according to interest, and each according to the duties they took on in life.

TASIS, however privileged the precinct, beyond its remarkable built and intellectual facilities, was at its core a waystation to a greater world, near and far. Locarno the site of a peace conference; down the hill to a romantic garden; up the coast to a magnate’s villa; in town to a grand hotel; up the hill to Mrs. Hesse; to Milan for Teatro alla Scala; Andermatt and San Moritz to ski; Venice to the Academy, and for me trips to Libya, Malta, France, and elsewhere. 

I am very pleased that TASIS becomes, as each decade passes, ever more a fulcrum of great teaching of the mindset that encourages creative enterprises among its diverse and ingenious students, now alumni, each an intellectual and attitudinal descendant of a woman with a dream realized on a golden hill, Collina d’Oro, her and our own city on a mount. 

Mrs. Fleming’s Collina d’Oro shines in all of us.

Mrs. Fleming in 1966

Mrs. Fleming in 1966

 Mrs. Fleming’s yearbook note to Christopher Hyland’s graduating class of 1966

Mrs. Fleming’s yearbook note to Christopher Hyland’s graduating class of 1966. Her words are just as relevant today.

A version of this article appeared in the 2019 issue of TASIS Today.

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