New Headmaster Lee Burns Opens McCallie’s 110th School Year

Monday, August 18, 2014 - by B.B. Branton
Lee Burns
Lee Burns
- photo by Wes Schultz

A new era for McCallie School has begun, yet with a familiar face.

More than 10,000 alums form what is known as the “long, blue line” and the class of ’87 presents the school at the foot of Missionary Ridge its eighth headmaster since September 1905 in Arthur Lee Burns III.

Monday morning, the friendly, personable 44-year-old Lookout Mountain native stood before the faculty, staff and student body in the school’s Sports and Activities Center welcoming them to a new school year and new era.

“We stand on the shoulders of men and women who built and shaped this school, of McCallie boys and faculty from this and the last century whose character and achievements have bequeathed us not simply a good name, but who have given us a culture of integrity and excellence, an identity and purpose and a way of doing life together,” said Mr. Burns, an alumnus and former McCallie faculty member and whose brother Jim ('89), father, Bud ('55) and grandfather, A.L. "Maj" ('20) are also  McCallie graduates.

He spoke of the school’s history and heritage, its philosophy and belief of developing character and courage in its students, its high expectations for discipline and daring to try and fail and try again and its Christian values embedded in the school creed of Honor, Truth and Duty.

“McCallie School has a special mission which is the importance of developing men of character,” stated Mr. Burns who spent the past 14 years as headmaster at Presbyterian Day School in Memphis (all boys, K-6) and seven years prior in various roles at Christ School, an Episcopal boys boarding school in Asheville, N.C.

“Our students need strong role models from faculty and staff who have high expectations for them to challenge and push them, as well as those who will nurture.”

Dartmouth (undergrad) and Harvard (master’s degree) educated, Burns stressed what is meant by “We are … McCallie.”

He spoke of the daunting task of searching for and finding truth, the uncommonness of having good character and the virtue of duty to others.

“’We are … McCallie’ means we are men of character, with high and hard expectations about how we behave … we don’t simply do that which is convenient or comfortable or that which may conform to the culture around us. Rather, we hold deeper values and truths that direct and sustain us.

“Carved into the rotunda of this building are the words ‘Honor, Truth and Duty.’ Like our motto (“man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever), these words anchor what it means to be a McCallie student.

Mr. Burns also stated, “In a world awash with information, celebrity and clutter, it can be hard to find the truth and to reflect on it. It’s tempting to do one thing in public and another in private, to be respectful and polite in person and the opposite on-line.

“We seek the truth as found in Phil. 4:8 as Paul writes, “Finally brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think on such things.”

He then spoke to the seniors; the class of 2015.

“We expect you to be a leader – not the kind of leadership that is about power or prestige or position, but leadership centered on serving and helping others … that has more substance than style, that is lived out with humility and service rather than simply discussed or promoted as a slick slogan.”

And Mr. Burns knows something about being a student leader as he was Keo-Kio president (senior leadership), elected to the Senate (school's honor council) for five years, tennis team captain and received the school’s second highest award, the Campbell Medal. While he was at Dartmouth, he was an Academic All-American as a member of the tennis team.

“Lee is a fierce competitor, loves McCallie and all it stands for and truly understands servant hood is a large part of leadership,” said Associate Headmaster and Upper School Head Kenny Sholl. “He is a natural, gifted leader.”

Mr. Burns also described McCallie as a blue-collar school, a school of “let’s roll up our sleeves and get to work” and quoted from one of America’s great leaders of the last century Teddy Roosevelt.

“It is not the critic who counts … the credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming … the one who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

Mr. Burns implored the students “to be a man in the arena: valiant and enthusiastic, sweaty and bloody, devoted and daring great things.”

Looking for mentors and role models and “men in the arena” in that aforementioned “long, blue line”, the current McCallie students only have to look as far as the one who stood before them as their new headmaster.

Contact B.B. Branton at

McCallie Associated Headmaster and Upper School Head Kenny Sholl, left, and Headmaster Lee Burns III
McCallie Associated Headmaster and Upper School Head Kenny Sholl, left, and Headmaster Lee Burns III
- Photo2 by Wes Schultz

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