No. 190

OSB Logo The Old St Beghian
  January 2017


(Frank) Keith Wilson (M 70-99). John Rowlands writes:

“All those associated with the school in any way between 1970 and 1999 will have been saddened to learn of the death of Keith Wilson following a long and distressing illness.

In many ways Keith’s career at St Bees bridged the gap between the ‘good old days’ of the school he joined in 1970 and the modern era in which he left it in 1999. Although by nature conservative, he was nonetheless very open to the idea of change which would be of benefit to the pupils, the staff or the wider school community, and this quality served him well in a period of far-reaching change in both the structures and the fortunes of the school.

Before joining St Bees Keith had been both a pupil and a master at Heversham Grammar School, interspersed with studying for his degree at Leeds University, and he always valued his Westmorland roots. The move to Cumberland allowed him to develop further the many skills and qualities he possessed.

As Head of Geography he was keen to promote the use of fieldwork to take advantage of the school’s exceptionally favoured location between the sea and the fells, and his classroom was a fascinating, if occasionally less than orderly treasure trove of maps, charts, geological specimens and sundry items of sporting equipment. His sharpness of mind and intellect were nowhere more evident than in the speed with which he would regularly dispatch The Times crossword to the surprise and even slight envy of colleagues whose learning was worn less lightly.

He was also, from the start, a member of the CCF, initially in the Army Section and later in the RAF Section, which he went on to lead as successor to Tony Cotes. This area of his career illustrates very clearly his willingness to promote, for the benefit and interest of pupils, even those activities on which he himself was not too keen. By his own admission he was a curious candidate to have conferred on him responsibility for Adventure Training, but he was a keen advocate of it, if not a wholly committed practitioner. He never fully lived down the navigational shortcoming which saw him lead a Field Day group from the summit of Scafell down into the wrong valley; perhaps he felt that, as Head of Geography, he might reasonably have been expected to know his Wasdale from his Eskdale.

Later on he took up windsurfing, but an evening of gentle offshore breeze at St Bees showed his technique to be somewhat uni-directional and an unscheduled break on the Isle of Man was averted only by the kind and timely, if somewhat embarrassing, intervention of a man with a motor boat.

He had a particular dislike of the Primary Glider, occasionally launched by a combination of pupil and elastic power on the Crease, and Keith, it seemed, was never more relieved than when it failed to take to the air. Later he took on responsibility for organising and running many very successful ski-trips, despite the protests of his now ageing knees.
Great as the contributions outlined so far may have been, they were dwarfed by his record on the sports field and as a Housemaster.

Himself a hugely accomplished rugby player and cricketer, Keith enjoyed a ten year spell as master in charge of rugby and, in particular, as coach to the 1st XV. He brought to it not only an impressive array of technical knowledge and a sharp competitive edge, but also an understanding that sport – and team sport in particular – had something to offer to all pupils, irrespective of their expertise or physicality. He was as keen to encourage the very modest performer as he was the naturally gifted and this was crucial in nursing generations of players through what could be, at times, a very tough initiation to inter-school sport.

Keith’s contribution as a Housemaster was remarkable for both its duration and its diversity. In 1981 he stepped up to succeed David Lyall as Housemaster of Eaglesfield, a post he held for thirteen years. In this he was helped enormously by Yvonne and by his own instincts as a family man. The Junior boys found in him a firm but fair and straightforward presence, a man keen to fight their corner when necessary and tolerant of most of their more curious ways.

Most men or women would have felt that thirteen years was enough of such committing and demanding work, but, when re-organisation brought about the closure of Eaglesfield, Keith and Yvonne moved to Lonsdale to take on responsibility for Senior Girls. The contrast in approach and skills required would have proved too much for most, but Keith and Yvonne adapted with determination and sensitivity, establishing a regime in which the girls flourished while being regularly challenged to develop all aspects of their very diverse personalities to the full.

Those, then, were the bare facts of Keith’s career as teacher, sports coach, CCF officer and Housemaster. What of the man himself? In all his roles, Keith brought to bear the same mix of strong personal qualities – he was sympathetic, but expected of himself and others a high degree of self-reliance and initiative. He was competitive, a characteristic that came out on the games field as a determination to win and elsewhere as encouragement to leave no talent undeveloped.

As a colleague he was courteous, honest, supportive, good-humoured and highly sociable. He was hugely loyal to his friends, the pupils and the school, generous with his time, his help and his hospitality. Time spent in his company, whether at home, in the bar of the Queen’s, around a barbeque, away with sports teams or on CCF camps was always enjoyable and often spawned anecdotes which have no doubt grown in the telling over the years. The abiding impression was always of his deep-seated and civilised humanity.

His retirement saw him busy in and around Lindale, where his interests included Kendal Rugby Club, golf, governorship of the modern incarnation of his old school, and, of course, his growing family. Sharing fun with his grandchildren clearly came very naturally to him and it is tragic that illness should have taken him from them and from all the family when he still had so much to offer.”





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