‘Friends’ for Life
Meet the two Toms. Just about anything one does, the other does, too.
Tom Gibian and Tom Farquhar
have been friends for more than 50
years. Their childhood homes in Sandy
Spring were three miles apart and they
attended Quaker services and Sunday
schools together. Later they both played
sports at Sherwood High—baseball and
football for Gibian, track for Farquhar—
and eventually married sisters, Tina and
Today, their two families live on
the same street in Washington’s Cleveland Park neighborhood, and this fall,
both men are starting their fourth year
as heads of Quaker schools—Gibian at
Sandy Spring Friends School, Farquhar
at Sidwell Friends School.
On a personal level, they reject the
notion that they’re rivals. Gibian, 60, says
“it’s kind of cool” having his brother-in-
law in a similar role. “It’s helped me enor-
mously; he’s been a mentor.” Farquhar,
62, expresses surprise that Gibian calls
him a mentor and says, “I see him as a
colleague and a source of inspiration.”
On an institutional level, however,
their schools are quite different.
Sandy Spring’s rural campus sprawls
across almost 150 acres in northern Montgomery County, with organic gardens supplying produce and solar panels supplying
power. Gibian greets me in an open-necked
sport shirt and introduces Stx, his 7-year-
old yellow Lab, who has deposited strands
of hair on virtually every surface of his
master’s unkempt office.
Sidwell’s upper school, by contrast,
squeezes onto 10 acres just blocks from
the National Cathedral in downtown
Washington, D.C.—its lower school is
in Bethesda—and two Secret Service
vehicles are parked outside Farquhar’s
office, a sign that the Obama girls, Sasha
and Malia, are students there. The head
of school wears a dark suit and maroon
Sidwell tie and not a hair, canine or oth-
erwise, is out of place.
Sidwell is 130 years old, and the Obamas
are only the latest in a long line of prominent families to send their kids there.
The names Clinton and Gore, Nixon and
Roosevelt dot the alumni roster.
Gibian says Sidwell, which his two
children attended, accepts only 7 percent of its applicants and he repeats an
old line: The school is harder to get into
than Harvard. Farquhar won’t confirm
Sidwell’s exact acceptance rate (“that’s
a very closely held number”), but he
proudly embraces the school’s reputation
for “academic intensity” and exclusivity.
“The hazard is that we could become
self-satisfied with our success,” he says.
Tom Gibian (left) and
Tom Farquhar both
run Quaker schools.