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Rhoda Sparrow, Mother of Head of School Alan Sparrow, Passes Away After 15 Years of Beloved '3 Little Pigs' Storytelling Tradition
Posted 02/28/2017 12:03AM

“And your old granny can sit on a pin!”

This unlikely line from The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs, a humorous retelling of the classic fable, spurred a treasured tradition shared by Rowland Hall Head of School Alan Sparrow, his late mother Rhoda Sparrow, the class of 2013, and most third, fourth, and fifth graders since 2003.

Mr. Sparrow became head of school at Rowland Hall in 1992, and since then has read The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs to nearly every third- through fifth-grade class as a way to get to know students. In the book, the narrator wolf claims innocence—he merely visited the pigs to borrow sugar for his granny’s birthday cake. Toward the end of the story, the third pig rebuffs the wolf and yells the line: “And your old granny can sit on a pin!”

At this point, Mr. Sparrow hams it up (pun intended) with the students. The children laugh at the “pin” line and—fully committed to the wolf character—Mr. Sparrow feigns fury. As the book reads: “Now I’m usually a pretty calm fellow. But when somebody talks about my granny like that, I go a little crazy.” Mr. Sparrow jumps up and down and hoots and hollers at the kids, and they’re in stitches.

Something special happened after Mr. Sparrow read the book to one third-grade class in 2003. After cracking up at the expense of the wolf’s granny, the children wanted to call the head of school’s “granny”—or in this case, Mr. Sparrow’s mother—to apologize. So Mr. Sparrow called his mom and explained the story to her. The kids apologized, and Mrs. Sparrow accepted their apology. Scout Swenson ’13, one of the students in that class, remembers joking to Mrs. Sparrow that she and her classmates gave Mr. Sparrow a detention.

From this silly interaction, a heartwarming tradition was born. After nearly every 3 Little Pigs reading that followed the one in 2003, Mr. Sparrow called his mom with the third, fourth, and fifth graders. And Scout and an evolving group of her class of 2013 peers called Mrs. Sparrow every year around the holidays to wish her a merry Christmas and happy birthday—New Year’s Day, for Mrs. Sparrow. Deepening her ties to the class of 2013, Mrs. Sparrow even talked via speakerphone at their fifth-grade, eighth-grade, and twelfth-grade graduations. During the ceremonies, Mrs. Sparrow would always congratulate the class and say how much she appreciated their chats over the years, recalled Scout, now a senior at the University of Southern California majoring in international relations. “It was a great experience for us to bookend our relationship at Rowland Hall,” the young alumna reflected.

Rhoda Sparrow, 101, passed away February 5, 2017, at her home in Bellport, New York. She was a “strong, independent woman,” who lived a full life—she was a devoted wife, loving mother, Harvard-educated biologist, librarian, master gardener, and more, as profiled in her obituary. Though Mrs. Sparrow is gone, she’ll endure in the memories of hundreds of Rowland Hall alumni who experienced her funny, charismatic, and easygoing personality, as described by Scout.

The fact that a jocular, impromptu phone call turned into a 15-year tradition speaks to the uniqueness of Rowland Hall, Scout added. “It’s so special to have an experience like that,” she said. “Things like that are what I think make a community for the students.”

The consistent communication meant a lot to Mrs. Sparrow, too. Last year when she turned 100, then-fourth-grader Alex Yamaguchi and Maxwell Sueoka ’16 illustrated 3 Little Pigs-themed birthday cards signed by hundreds of students. “My mom, who was more and more homebound, really appreciated the contact with the kids,” Mr. Sparrow said. The phone calls also furthered Mr. Sparrow’s reputation for being a down-to-earth “head learner”—he liked reading the story and calling his mom to show students he’d joke with them, and that ultimately, school is supposed to be fun.

Since Rhoda Sparrow passed away, Alan Sparrow has received an outpouring of sympathy and support. “I can't tell you how much my kids always enjoyed your mom's phone calls,” one parent wrote. “She meant a lot to me as well as the Rowland Hall community,” a young alumni emailed. And in one card, another parent expressed simple, poignant gratitude: “Thank you for sharing her with our children.”

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