Almost Like Kismet

From left, Tony Gotto, Dale Farran and Anita Gotto (Steve Green/Vanderbilt)

Graduating with honors from Peabody College in 1959, Anita Safford Gotto knew she’d received a good education—among the best in America even. But world-class?

That didn’t sink in until she interviewed for a job several thousand miles away in Oxford, England, while her husband, Antonio “Tony” Gotto, BA’57, MD’65, was on a Rhodes scholarship.

“I applied for a teaching job in the Oxfordshire district and got it, which was amazing to me,” Anita said. “I was competing with a lot of other wives of Rhodes scholars and they all had been educated in the Northeast at places like Barnard and Wellesley.

“I discovered that I really had an excellent education and was well-prepared to teach. They put me in what they called an ‘infant school,’ and before I knew it the headmistress was bringing people in from places like Korea and Germany to watch what I was doing.”

To honor Peabody’s impact on Anita’s lifelong association with education, the Gottos chose to endow the Antonio M. and Anita S. Gotto Chair in Teaching and Learning. Inaugurated in January, the chair is held by Dale Farran, professor of teaching and learning, psychology and human development, and senior associate director of the Peabody Research Institute.

“Anita and I both were reared in Nashville, and Vanderbilt and Peabody opened our doors to the outside world,” said Tony, the former Stephen and Suzanne Weiss Dean at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York.

“When we were in a position to make a significant contribution, we felt that we owed part of our success and careers to this place. And after we met Dale and found out about her research, we knew she was the sort of person we’d like to invest in.”

Farran, whose research focuses on early childhood development, said it feels “almost like kismet” to have been offered the chair at this point in her career.

“It was my enormous good fortune to meet Anita and Tony,” she explained, crediting Dean Camilla Benbow for helping bring them together. “Everything lined up just right—the kind of work I’m doing and the fact that they were ready to make a gift like this.”

Farran said the chair will help advance several key research initiatives, including the Peabody Research Institute’s ongoing work with Metro Nashville Public Schools on their pre-K centers. She hopes someday the centers and their innovative curricula will serve as models for other communities nationwide.

“The whole area of early childhood education is getting lots of attention in Washington and other places right now,” Farran said, “and if this chair enables me to shape the direction of that conversation with more authority than I had before, I’ll be forever grateful.

“There are so many opportunities to get involved in things that are critically important to young children,” she said, “but there are also many opportunities for those things to go the wrong way. Now’s the time to try to make a difference.”