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Primary Education News
News Roger O'Brien obituary
My friend Roger O'Brien, who has died aged 73, was one of the cleverest people you could meet. However, his sharp wit and intellect did not endear him to his teachers when he was a schoolboy. He recalled writing a poem for his mother, Gwen, who told him to take it in to school. His teacher slapped him round the legs. Not only did she think he had copied it – it did not even rhyme!
Roger got the highest marks in Britain for A-level history in his year and went on to study at St Edmund Hall, Oxford. These were remarkable achievements for a tough, working-class lad from rural 1950s Devon – especially someone with his fiery brand of socialism.
He was born in Buckfastleigh and went to the local primary school, then King Edward VI school, Totnes. After a short stint training teachers in a mission college in central Africa, he moved first to Sheffield and then to Easingwold school in North Yorkshire, where he became head of English and deputy headteacher. At his funeral, one of his former pupils spoke of Roger's capacity for opening minds and raising the aspirations of sixth-formers.
He loved books and even at the end there was always a big pile of them by his chair. One of the reasons he retired early from teaching in the early 90s was so that he could open a secondhand book shop in Thirsk. The other was so that his wife, Jane, whom he married in 1970, could pursue her own career in social services.
He learned a lot from the serenity with which Jane, who was a Quaker, faced her diagnosis with cancer. When it was clear that she wanted to die at home, he took over her nursing care, superintending the daunting array of oxygen machines that were lined up in the dining-room.
And when he, too, was diagnosed with cancer, his attitude was resolute and stoical. The kindness that he had always hidden under that gruff exterior came shining through. His main concern was that his sons would be properly provided for. On the Wednesday before he died, his main topics of conversation were his boys and the way his mother's Methodism had shaped his own political views and spiritual intuitions.
Jane died in 2003. Roger is survived by his sons, John and Jamie, and his grandchildren, Callum and Beth.