13 October 1926 to 1 January 2016
Anyone who encountered Colin quickly came to respect him and those who knew him well loved him deeply. His was a life well lived.
This tribute is taken from the Service of Celebration and Thanksgiving on 22 January 2016, led by Revd Nick Bundock.
Colin was born in Huddersfield in 1926, the third and youngest son of Tom, a draughtsman in a local engineering firm, and Edith. He was always proud of his Yorkshire roots – and invariably wore a cloth cap, a Yorkshire trademark. This might have been endearing in later life but was highly embarrassing to his daughters Catherine and Jane in the ‘swinging sixties’. Indeed, when one of his caps went missing in about 1969 he suspected one of them had deliberately dropped it out of the car, although this was vehemently denied.
One of his memories of the 1930s was of unemployed men waiting outside local factories on the off chance that someone was fired and they could take their job.
He attended the local grammar school, Huddersfield College. When the Second World War broke out, he was 13. An avid reader, according to his mother, he refused to shelter in the cellar during air raids but instead blacked out his attic bedroom window with paint so that he could stay up there reading. She also said he coped well with rationing – unlike his older brother Alec, who ate his weekly chocolate bar in one go, Colin would carefully eat one square of chocolate a day so that it would last the week.
Even as a young man, he had many cultural interests: Brian Goulder, a lifelong friend, says he will always be indebted to him for such knowledge of music and the arts as he has. As teenagers, Colin played 78 rpm records for Brian, took him to his first Halle concert and could always see something in pictures that had eluded Brian.
He gained a place at St Catharine’s College, Cambridge to read History in 1944. He went up for the Freshmens’ photograph, shortly after which he joined the RAF as a pilot cadet training to fly, first in Belfast, and then Kenya. It was in Kenya that he fell in love with East Africa and was determined to return there one day. He never saw active service but was not discharged until 1948 after serving with the occupying forces in Germany and Italy. He described this as his ‘young gentleman’s tour of Europe’ since it gave him the opportunity to visit cultural sites and learn both German and Italian. But he also spoke of his frustration during these years as he keenly wanted to start his studies at Cambridge.
He was finally able to do so in 1948 and at Cambridge he met Eleanor. It was not exactly love at first sight. He told her he was on his way to a Labour Party meeting to which she, daughter of a staunch Conservative councillor, replied: ‘you poor fool’. Her political views changed somewhat in later years. They married in April 1952.
After graduation, Colin entered the Colonial Service and trained in London before going out to Uganda in 1952 as an assistant District Officer, with Eleanor joining him a few months later. Jane once asked him what he would have been if he hadn’t gone in to the Colonial Service. He felt he would have had no chance of a post in the Foreign Office as he came from a grammar school and not a public school – he said he thought he would have been a teacher.
He was first posted to remote Soroti. Catherine was born in 1953 and Jane was born three years later. After three years in Soroti, he was posted to Kampala and then to Entebbe, the administrative capital.
The years in Uganda were some of the happiest years of Colin and Eleanor‘s married life, but in 1961 with Harold MacMillan’s ‘Winds of Change’ speech heralding decolonisation and Catherine approaching the age when she would have to go to boarding school in England, Colin decided that, at 35 years old, it was a good time for a career change.
He considered studying for a Ph.D but instead opted for the Joint Matriculation Board in Manchester, starting in the autumn of 1962. Eleanor commented later that he had hated the first few years at the JMB and life in Manchester, after the variety and challenges of Uganda but, as he gained rapid promotion, the job became more interesting and fulfilling. He became the Deputy Secretary in 1965 and then Secretary of the Board in 1981. At the JMB in those days the initials CV stood for more than just curriculum vitae. As Secretary, he played a key role in devising the GCSE system in the 1980s that aimed to reflect the comprehensive education system which had replaced the tripartite system – it is testimony that this exam system still stands today. He helped to ward off proposals by Sir Keith Joseph to just have one examination board by citing the Thatcher mantra of competition and market forces. He was awarded the OBE for his services to education.
Colin and Eleanor had moved to Didsbury in 1973 and soon became involved in Didsbury life. Eleanor carried on cycling to Parrs Wood School while Colin was now able to cycle to work. It was a family joke that the car only came out of the garage on special occasions. He and Eleanor joined the Northern Lawn Tennis Club and made many friends there. One of his great interests was gardening and his immaculate lawn at Pine Road was his pride and joy – he was delighted when the groundsman at the tennis club sought his advice.
After he retired in 1990, he had a very busy and fulfilling time probably because Eleanor warned him not to expect her to be in to make his lunches since she would be busy with her allotment, language classes and church lunches. He undertook what he termed ‘VSO for wrinklies’.- staying for several months at a time in Nepal, Eritrea and finally St Petersburg advising on how to set up independent public examination systems. He even learned Russian before going to St Petersburg.
He was a talented amateur water colour artist, he built up a fine collection of Delft plates and Georgian glassware and he read very widely. He and Eleanor enjoyed visits to the theatre, concerts and galleries. A keen walker, he had climbed Kilimanjaro and Mount Elgon in East Africa and he enjoyed mountain and fell walking in Britain and Europe later on. He and Eleanor travelled extensively in Europe and went round the world in 1991.
Colin was a committed Christian. His faith grew later in life and he was confirmed in his mid 40s. His involvement in church life grew when he retired. He became the Chair of Governors for both Trinity C of E Secondary School which he referred to as his “big school”, and Didsbury C of E Primary School which was his “small school”. He was a churchwarden here at St James & Emmanuel and for many years coordinator of the lunches for the needy.
He was a devoted family man. He and Eleanor had a long and happy marriage and celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary in 2012. They showed each other mutual respect and affection and were proud of each other’s achievements. It was an equal partnership. His devotion and care for her during her decline in her 80s was very touching.
He was the great calming influence in the family and a much loved grandfather to Sarah, Anna, Matthew and Danny – gentle, even-tempered and letting them take the lead in games and activities.
His grandchildren loved to hear his Uganda story of how one evening the pet kitten was blinded by cobra venom on the verandah, upon which Colin seized a broom and saw off the snake before bathing the kitten’s eyes with milk to restore its sight.
To his great delight, he was able to attend Sarah’s wedding here in St James Church just six months ago.
Catherine and Jane have received many cards and letters with memories of Colin. Many have highlighted his discretion, discernment and wisdom and his support for others both at and outside work, his precise and concise use of language and have described him as a true gentleman, and someone of the utmost integrity. Whilst reserved about his emotions, he was constant and always able to stay positive and cheerful.