David Royle ’78 on the first alumni group travel tour to Italy: ‘It was clear that Morehead-Cain magic was in the air’

Blog | November 28, 2023
A group of Morehead-Cain Alumni visited Rome and Tuscia, Italy, from October 31 to November 7. The trip was the Foundation’s first alumni group travel experience.

Written by David Royle ’78, a participant in Morehead-Cain’s first alumni group travel tour to Italy in fall 2023

Is it sacrilege to say that the main attraction to visit Rome was not a private tour of the Sistine Chapel, an expertly guided walk through the Roman Forum, or even the rapturous art of Gian Lorenzo Bernini? (Will Megan ever forgive me for saying this?)

My wife, Lia, and I on the Spanish Steps in Rome.

It also wasn’t the food, and we ate a lot of good Italian food. In fact, there were times when our visits to museums and archaeological sites seemed mere interludes between courses. But that’s another story.

The overwhelming reason that I signed up with my wife, Lia, to go on the first trip for Morehead-Cain Alumni was the opportunity to spend time with other former scholars . . . in a way, to test the idea that the term “Morehead-Cain cousins” wasn’t just a slogan but had some underlying substance to it.

The trip had been meticulously planned by Megan and Emily, in collaboration with our extraordinary tour director, Jordan Cook—a man whose knowledge of Rome, his energy, and his ability to adapt to last-minute changes with a constant affability left us in awe.

From the moment we arrived at the Rose Garden Palace hotel in Rome, it was clear that Morehead-Cain magic was in the air.

Animated conversations were breaking out all over the lobby. In fact, Jordan, Megan, and Emily had some difficulty corralling everyone. Eventually, discipline prevailed and we were herded out to our vans.

Members of our group at the Villa Medici with Théo Mercier’s exhibition, BAD TIMING, on display.

Every day brought new delights and everywhere we went we were spoiled with the insights of expert guides. We walked through the Roman Forum, toured the Capitoline Museums, and gazed over the Colosseum. A morning with the modern artists Monica Lundy and Daniele Puppi in their studio was a special treat (thank you, Tonya Turner Carroll ’89).

At the French Academy, we were amused to find the entrance to the Villa Medici dotted with cars sticking out of the ground like modern day standing stones, and we met artist-in-residence Dread Scott at the American Academy.

Adding immeasurably to these incredible experiences was, as I had hoped, the conversations with fellow Morehead-Cains—conversations that broke out at every opportunity.

They covered a wide range of subjects and, this is what made them special, they seldom focused on careers or achievements. Instead, they were both personal and eclectic. It really did feel that we were Morehead-Cain cousins who shared a special bond that had been immeasurably strengthened on this trip.

It would be tempting to tell you about all the places we visited, to lead you through the Piazza Navona, where our walking tour started with Bernini’s fountains, or through the opulent Galleria Borghese. But you can read about all this elsewhere. Instead, let me mention a few moments and experiences that especially resonate in my mind.

Sampling olive oil at the home of David Ballard ’78 in Tobia, Italy.

The first was a magical rooftop evening reception at the home of Jerry Horner ’88 on the Via Margutta. It revealed the unexpected personal connections that tie people together. Who would have anticipated that Jerry’s wife, Lisa, and British alumnus Peter Mallinson ’82 would discover that they had both grown up on the small Caribbean nation of Guyana, a country whose complicated history has recently been captured in the moving novel Song, authored by Michelle Jana Chan ’96?

A day later we headed into the Tuscia countryside to visit the beautiful villa and olive farm owned by David Ballard ’78. David treated us to a presentation on Etruscan history followed by an olive oil tasting led by a sommelier. The tasting was a serious event (think wine without the alcohol), and our full attention was expected.

Of course, there is always someone who doesn’t obey the rules. In this case, it was Morehead-Cain’s president, Chris Bradford, who was properly admonished for tasting the oil before permissible. We’ll have to put this impropriety down to a lingering jet lag.

Then, we were off to Vignanello to have lunch with an Italian princess in her mediaeval castle. Princess Claudia greeted us at the Castle Ruspoli, which her family has owned since the eighteenth century, and we sat down to an elegant meal, waited on by uniformed staff, in a dining room lined with ancestral paintings.

Seated for lunch with Princess Claudia.

And finally, there was the last night: a formal dinner as the guests of Bettina and Peter Mallinson at one of Rome’s great private clubs, the Nuovo Circulo degli Scacchi.

With the elegant seventeenth-century setting, fine food, and impeccable service . . . some of us were beginning to think that we could get used to this. But, alas, it was time to go home.

For us, it was ending all too soon. For Megan, the timing was perfect. She would arrive home just in time to welcome her latest grandchild into the world named, so appropriately, “Leo,” after one of the most notable Italian popes.

—David Royle ’78

More about alumni group travel with Morehead-Cain

One of the great joys of being part of the Morehead-Cain community is spending time with “cousins” of all ages at regional gatherings and the triennial Alumni Forum in Chapel Hill.

The next group travel opportunity will be the Civil Rights tour of the South from April 11 to April 15, 2024, featuring Taylor Branch ’68, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of the Civil Rights trilogy America in the King Years. Next fall, alumni will visit London to celebrate the 55th anniversary of the British Morehead-Cain Programme with our British alumni.

Learn more about upcoming travel opportunities.