Tom Neubauer, who spent 12 years as a student at McDonogh School in Baltimore County, remembers a lesson he learned from former dean Maj. Alvin J. Levy -- never turn your back on a friend.
He apparently is not alone. The private school's tightknit community closed ranks around the institution and its longtime father figure this week as Major Levy, 71, was charged with sexually abusing a male student between 1977 and 1986.
"What he taught you is that when you're a friend to someone, you're a friend to them in both good times and bad," said Mr. Neubauer, who was president of his class and captain of the football, basketball and baseball teams. "So when a friend is in a crisis, you stand by them. That's why I will stand by him."
While Mr. Neubauer said he and friends he's spoken with this week were "shocked" by the allegations, he has no plans to give up his longstanding friendship with Major Levy. "Since I graduated," said Mr. Neubauer, 29, an account manager for Xerox, "he's been to my wedding. I know him as a friend, not just as the dean. . . . This guy means so much to so many people and has done so many positive things, that I'm not about to turn my back on him."
While Mr. Neubauer was one of the few former McDonogh students who agreed to have his name published, many more expressed similar sentiments. Few had anything but kind words about the man they called "the Maj," although several former students said that as a single man living alone, he was the victim of gossip and rumors, as teachers sometimes are.
According to former students and published accounts, Major Levy's house on the large McDonogh campus was open constantly to students who wanted to stop by to talk.
He often let several dozen male students, especially those who lived on campus, spend the night at his house on weekends as a break from dorm life. He would fix them breakfast and let them watch his color television.
But through all those years, and Major Levy had been on campus since the mid-1940s, no one ever accused him of anything untoward, until this year, when a 28-year- old former student made the charges.
That former student, who has declined to talk to reporters, told police of the alleged abuse, which began when the victim was 13 and continued even after he graduated from McDonogh and got a job on campus, according to court records.
Some supporters wondered why a victim would wait so many years to report such instances of abuse. But authorities say it's not uncommon, especially among males.
"Many times they are threatened that harm will come to the parents," said Dr. Patricia Firth, a child psychiatrist at the University of Maryland Hospital in Baltimore. "That's very frightening to a child."
Scott Shellenberger, an assistant state's attorney in Baltimore County who heads the county's child sexual abuse unit, said he's received several calls about the case.
But Mr. Shellenberger refused to comment on the nature of those calls, saying the investigation is ongoing.
Nevitt Steele, Major Levy's attorney, and Dr. W. Boulton Dixon, the headmaster at McDonogh, both declined to comment beyond written statements they issued earlier this week.
"We're back to educational matters," said Dr. Dixon. "Parents have been extremely supportive about the way the school has handled this from the beginning."
Joan Levin, president of the Patrons Board, McDonogh's parents' organization, said the board has not discussed the matter, but for her personally, the charges against Major Levy do not change her opinion of the school.
Al Levy began teaching in the mid-1940s after he left the U.S. Army, where he served in World War II as a major.
Students continued to call him "the Maj" out of respect, and because of McDonogh's former status as a military school.
He was named commandant of the school in 1952, but when McDonogh dropped its military trappings in 1971, he was named dean of students, a post he held until his retirement in June 1986. The school became coeducational in 1975.
According to a 1981 profile of Major Levy in The Sun, the walls of his house on campus were covered with photos of former students. He would spend hours every night writing letters to alumni across the country.
It was said he had been invited to more than 180 weddings and been best man in more than 100 of those. He also taught Sunday school classes at Roland Park Presbyterian Church for many years.
Those who knew him best said the Maj was a stern yet sensitive educator who was always available when students had problems. He was often called upon for the unpleasant task of informing students of deaths in their families.
"He commanded respect," said Mr. Neubauer. "And he did it with a consistent tone."
Others tell a different tale of an authority figure who played favorites with campus leaders and athletes.
"You either got close to Al Levy or you did not. It was a very cliquish sort of thing," said a 1969 graduate who described himself as being outside Major Levy's circle.
Said another grad from the same era: "I thought he played favorites. You were either very very fond of him or you just thought he was a horse's ass."
After his retirement, Major Levy continued to live at McDonogh until recently, when he checked himself into a hospital to be treated for depression over the allegations.
He worked hard on McDonogh fund-raising activities but had little contact with students, according to his attorney.
Several people who knew him well, including William C. Mules, the former headmaster of McDonogh, declined to be interviewed, referring all calls to McDonogh. Mr. Mules now works for a private school in New Jersey.
As for the allegations, Mr. Neubauer said he didn't want to minimize them, but he said he finds them hard to believe.
"I was in his company a lot," said Mr. Neubauer, who worked with the major planning student events. "Never once did I ever feel any innuendo or any subtleties that would make me wonder about him. I never once felt threatened by him.
"All I can say is, in my 12 years there, I was never treated in any way but with dignity and respect," Mr. Neubauer said. "It was an excellent place to learn."