Written by Jack Figge '22
Editor in Chief of Prep News
On Jan. 11, St. Louis U. High announced the passing of its former principal Dr. Robert Bannister ’54. Bannister leaves behind a large legacy defined by ushering SLUH into the 21st century and leading the school community with poise and kindness.
Bannister stepped on SLUH’s campus for the first time in 1950, his freshman year. He cherished his four years at the Backer Memorial Campus, reveling in the brotherhood and camaraderie. As a student, he fell in love with the school and the traditions and would carry those memories with him throughout his life.
“He had so much pride for SLUH. He would get to talking about this place and share so many stories and memories about his time as a student and the relationships he made,” said Assistant Principal for Mission Jim Linhares. “He always talked about his classmates and their time here. I mean, the guy was at home here.”
SLUH was home for Bannister, but it would be over 40 years before he returned to the Backer Memorial Campus. Bannister pursued further education at St. Louis University and then began his professional career in secondary education. After a brief stint at Priory, Bannister moved to Ladue High School, where he was later promoted to vice principal. He served for 30 years at Ladue before making his grand return to SLUH as principal. He replaced Paul Owens, who had been serving as principal for 12 years.
When Bannister began his tenure as principal in 1997, the world was on the edge of entering into the internet age. There were few computers in the school and barely any teachers were implementing technology into their lesson plans. Bannister made it an objective to introduce the tool of the internet to the SLUH community.
“A key objective of his was helping facilitate the growing change that was coming on the horizon, especially in regards to technology,” said Director of the Learning Center Tim Curdt. “But he also respected the traditions of SLUH and made sure to adhere to its values.”
To help instill the values of SLUH in future students, Bannister believed it was important to expand the faculty and bring in fresh, new faces to provide students with the best academic experience possible.
“He hired 27 new teachers because he wanted to give more leeway to veteran teachers to design a class they always wanted to teach and so that students could be a part of smaller classes and receive more one-on-one help,” said Fr. Paul Sheridan, S.J., who was president of SLUH when Bannister was hired.
“One of the most monumental things Dr. Bannister did was he hired Mr. Missey and me in the same year. That’s probably his most lasting notch,” joked Curdt, who added more seriously, “I think he came along at a time of transition from a long standing principal, yet he found a way to keep the mission of the school while still moving forward.”
Bannister would prioritize the faculty throughout his time as principal. His leadership style was defined by ensuring that his faculty knew that he appreciated them and was there to support them.
“He liked his faculty, and the faculty knew that he liked them, and they liked him,” said Linhares. “It sounds kind of cliche or superficial. But when there's affection there, for an administrator, we often take it for granted but it is a great gift.”
Not only did Bannister want to befriend his faculty members, but he wanted to build a community among the teachers. He would often plan optional parties that faculty could attend that were purely focused on having fun and bonding.
“He planned optional gatherings outside of school where we would have dinner and play like party games with other faculty and he just brought a lot of goodwill to those events,” said physics teacher Paul Baudendistel. “He was able to rein in a large segment of the faculty that I have not seen any other person do.”
Bannister’s tenure as principal came to an end when he retired in 2005. Yet Bannister remained faithful to the school he so loved, remaining an active board member after he left.
Bannister passed away on Jan. 10, 2022 due to natural causes. He leaves behind a legacy of being a model of a man for others: always putting his school first and making everybody he encountered feel noticed and loved.
“There was always a twinkle in his eye, he was always there to say hi to you and always had joy in his face,” said Sheridan. “And even when we were pressed with hard decisions, he brought a level mind, a mature approach and generosity of spirit.”