Daughter of the Founder, Lynn Fleming Aeschliman has been involved in one way or another with TASIS for her whole life. (Her grandparents, Mr. and Mrs. H.M. Crist, Mrs. Fleming’s parents, were also school founders and directors.) In 1956, along with her sister and brother, she was among the twelve students in the first year of the School when the student-faculty ratio was 2:1
In 1996, Mrs Aeschliman took over leadership of the TASIS Schools as Executive Director. Then in 2005, as the Fleming family completed the donation of all the TASIS Schools and campuses to the TASIS Foundation, a Swiss non-profit educational foundation, Mrs Aeschliman became Chairman of the newly-established Board of Directors, as well as Vice Chairman of the Foundation. She serves on the Board of Directors of TASIS England as well. In 2005, Mrs Aeschliman also founded the very successful TASIS Elementary School, the first English-language elementary school in Ticino.
In the video on the TASIS website about the history of TASIS, Mrs Fleming’s warmth and personality is all encompassing. I got such a sense of her curiosity, determination and sense of humour. That’s all for real: she was an original. She was also much better educated than most women of her generation, and she refused to take a back seat to men as a matter of course.
It’s incredible that one woman achieved what she did – especially at the time that she achieved it. Were you conscious as a child of how exceptional she was? Not really, because it was all part of our lives and seemed normal. We three children were expected to roll with the punches, and help wherever and whenever needed. She was a single mother and had to be mother and father to her 3 children, without any support from our father, and she launched the TASIS empire from nothing, except an extraordinary up-bringing from her parents, who started their own school in the USA before WWI. My mother was an adventurer, an entrepreneur, and loved people, of all ages and stages and backgrounds. She taught us both ‘to greet the Queen and to clean toilets’ if need be. I never saw her down. She loved life and threw herself into it. I learned from her that if you commit yourself to life, you receive it more bountifully – she loved Rev. Peale’s assertion about ’the power of positive thinking.’ We had wonderful picnics, everywhere and anywhere, summer or winter, but the spot always had to be beautiful, or she would make it beautiful. It was said that if she was in a telephone booth for more than 5 minutes, she’d decorate it. I was at her side for almost all of her initiatives. She loved starting schools and programs. She provided great opportunities for me and I was expected just to jump in and do what was needed – starting schools, summer programs, colleges, traveling theatre program, etc.; renovation of Italian, English, French villas, palazzi, castles, ruins, garages, green houses, farm houses, manor and Tudor houses; using other languages. I was a good student but not a scholar (as my professor husband is), but I graduated from Barnard College, Columbia University, during the revolution of ’68. I learned by doing, the old apprenticeship way of learning, and I apprenticed to my mother from day one.
You were one of the first children at Mrs Fleming’s first school. What are your memories of this time? Very vivid – a happy and adventurous time. See above.
You must have met some amazing people and been to some beautiful places over the years? Do you have any particularly treasured memories? Lots – living, traveling, and working at my mother’s side. See above. I have been blessed to be able to spend a lot of my life in southern France, Tuscany, and French and Italian Switzerland, very beautiful places that have retained much of the harmony of classical and Christian civilisation at its best. Part of our mission from my
mother is to surround young people with beauty. I conceived, with our classical architect David Mayernik, and supervise the building of our beautiful Global Village campus (1996-2022).
Mrs Fleming was particularly insistent on how important education, and the learning of languages, was to the understanding of other people’s culture and ideas. After 9/11, she spoke of education as ‘the only way to fight chaos’. This must seem particularly vital to today’s international climate? Yes! She was an ‘un-alienated’ person, with a secure set of traditional values and virtues that she personified and also articulated, with both humour and force.
Your mother left behind an incredible educational legacy. How is TASIS working to fulfill and develop that legacy today? My husband and I constantly fight to preserve this legacy and try to have board members and hire senior administrators dedicated to the vision of my mother – not an easy challenge in this day and age where a nihilistic popular culture is destroying our young for its own profit, and where much education is proudly ‘value-free.’ Please look at our new website TASIS.com under “About Us”, to see our foundational documents, especially our Paideia educational statement. In planning the perpetuation of TASIS beyond the three generations, and before my mother’s death, our family gave away our inheritance – campuses and schools in Switzerland and England—to the Swiss non-profit TASIS Foundation. The Paideia treatise was vital at that time in our decision and is even more vital now to maintain the ethos and values of my mother’s vision and mission in the schools she founded.
In many ways through TASIS, with its holistic focus on educating the whole person, not just test results, Mrs Fleming created a whole new theory of eduction. How do you think this compares with what other schools offer today? Not a whole new theory, but a traditional mode of education, enlivened by her unique charm, energy, and personal force, and now in contrast in many ways to what other schools are doing. She liked the adage, “Times change; values don’t”; though maybe it would be better to say, “virtues don’t.”
The school website is full of children and adults who have been inspired and transformed by their education at TASIS. What do you think Mrs Fleming’s advice to them would be? Hold fast to traditional values and mores, with energy, humour, and force: vindicate what is best in Western, classical-Christian civilisation, including justice and courtesy for everyone as goals. She loved “Times change, values don’t!”
You’ve personally contributed to the huge success of TASIS in a variety of roles over the years. Is there anything which you think is particularly important to the TASIS ethos? Yes, our Paideia, the residual momentum of an embattled civilisation, and maintaining it in the face of what seems a collapsing Western culture and brutal fanaticism outside of it. But kindness, courtesy, and humour are absolutely necessary virtues in dealing humanly with human beings.
It’s clear that Mrs Fleming had lots of stories to tell about her experiences. Do you have a favourite tale? Many – my life-time of 70 years, and many more adventures to go. She made time live; so should we all. Life is very short.
Interview by Joanne Walker