Dear Parents,Carers and Grandparents
It is with great sadness that I have to inform you of the death of Des Whicher, our Chair of Governors/ Trustees.Des passed away in his sleep last Wednesday at Beaumond House ,aged 87. His recent stroke was really just an indicator of a more serious cancer to his liver. I was able to visit him and talk to him several times over the past few weeks and days and know that Barnby Road was never far from his thoughts, he was looking forward to opening the new build, which will now become the "Whicher Wing".
Des was chair for nearly twelve years at the school, many would argue the most successful years in our school's history. Not many outside education understand the role of a Chair of Governors but I guess the best analogy is a little like a football chairman to a football manger (The head). I think that was how Des saw it too. Nine tenths of school management is hidden beneath the water line but at Barnby we have 54 Staff and 460 children,when you think about it it's a huge responsibility, Des thought so.
For him, his task was simply to get the best for his community. He was an ardent socialist and Labour supporter and his values of respecting everyone's efforts equally were ones that fitted well with our school ethos.He knew this ward and Newark people like no one else and had been mayor and a local councillor several times throughout his life. There are a lot of people out there who owe him a great deal in that role, re-housing families and dealing passionately with local issues, Des never ignored a concern or letter.
After the Fiona Jones fiasco (he was her succesful agent during an historic election swing!), disillusioned with national politics and winning his court appeal (but never receiving a public apology!);I think its fair to say that he increasingly turned his attention to our school for his solace. It became a great source of pleasure and pride to him after real heartbreak. I think we made some wise decisions and some fantastic appointments under his guidance, he was so intellectually astute.
Des and I turned our work into a series of long walks, we have probably walked every footpath and visited most of Lincolnshire's pubs on our Sunday morning walks. Over twelve years we must have walked over 1000 miles together. He was a fantastic naturalist and could name every,flower,bird or butterfly...usually ten paces ahead of me, he was still setting the pace months before his illness started to affect him. I loved those walks and we would discuss the school at length; me throwing out ideas, Des pointing out the strengths and weaknesses. I can remember very few times when we weren't in complete agreement by the end of a walk (or maybe a pint). It was a lovely way to share and develope our ideas, never a chore. Des is to have his walking boots cremated with him ! He had that kind of sense of humour and was quick to smile.
Des was an excellent Chair and an Ex Mayor! I doubt anybody has chaired as many meetings and he always kept us to our agendas. He insisted he was fully briefed before all meetings and went through each item with huge care until he understood it. He spent more time in school than any chair I have ever worked with and knew his school inside out, impressing OFSTED with his understanding at each inspection. He wrote some key letters in the history of the school and was an incredibly literate man,remaining influential with county and district councillors; you didn't ignore a letter from Mr Whitcher!
His last couple of years he spent re-reading Charles Dickens who he admired for his sense of social justice and ability to shine a light on society's inequalities, it summed Des up. Des wanted the best possible education for every child, he wanted cheaper visits, free music tuition and facilities to rival those of independent schools, and agenda we shared.It was never a school but a community to him. He was even prepared to go beyond his own political beliefs to achieve that. To see through the "Hype" of academy status to the real benefits and actuually go with a Conservative policy was hard for him. Being Des, he went through it's Pros and Cons at great length and decided that it would benefit his community. Ultimately,it was his lead that made us one of the nation's first primary academies. Not easy for him, he would later justify his decision as, "Ripping Off the Tories, exploiting their policy to get a better deal for the hardworking parent !", usually adding that academies were,"...a Labour invention anyway", always with a wry grin. Socialist...yes, dogmatic and intransigent...never, Des was a pragmatist.
He loved going on our school visits and although in later years they exhausted him,he would return full of enthuisiasm for the learning, particularly if they were history or geography based. He was an excellent historian and loved coming in to tell year six about his times in the "Blitz". He had a passion for the Civil War and Newark's role ,which he supported locally, giving many hours of voluntary time to the Newark Museums and the Southwell Work house. Des never missed a concert or choir recital or musical outing, he was immensley proud of the growth in music through Mrs Pepper's Choir and laterrlly Mrs Greeley's great music department. The last time I saw him awake, he asked about the piano teaching we had named the "CDes Whicher Scholarship".
Together, many years ago, Des and I wrote the Barnby Road mission statement, I remember him adding on the end ...and the wonder of childhood"...that says a lot ! It was that statement from which the phrase "Achieve our Best" was born.Quite simply,Des gave us his best too and I, for one,will never forget that. He was a modest,good man, living simply in the middle of his beloved Newark community...a superb public servant,who loved your school and wanted the very best... be in no doubt, he gave us his.
Parents, children, staff, fellow governors and Trustees will miss him greatly.It was a pleasure, an honour and an education to know him.Personally, I have lost a dear friend and professional mentor, a visionary partner who genuinely beleived in social reform and lived it.
We send our very best wishes and sympathies to Joan and his family at this difficult time. The funeral will be at 1:00PM. at Newark Town Hall on the afternoon of Thursday 13th June. It will ve a "Humanist" Service. No Flowers, donations to Beaumond house.
Kev Eveleigh OBE.