It is with much sadness that we remember the life of a past master of 33 years at Smallwood Manor. Please read his eulogy written by his son Paul, a past pupil at Smallwood. Thank you for sharing this with us.
“Mr Shouksmith, Sir, JAS, Shoukie (usually behind his back), Uncle John, Grandpa, Dad, John. These hopefully cover what you knew him as whether that be as a teacher, colleague, cricketer, golfer, friend, uncle, cousin, brother, grandfather, father or husband. Jane, Rachel and I have been touched and overwhelmed by the number and nature of the comments that have been made about him over the past couple of weeks, many by people who we don’t know but I am sure that he would remember as though it was yesterday. I will share some of those comments with you over the next few minutes.
John Arthur Shouksmith was born on his mother’s Birthday, 6th October 1942 and spent his early years at Whitehouse Gardens in York before moving to St Alban’s Place, where his brother Richard was born 3 and half years later. He went to Miss Meeby’s kindergarten then Scarcroft Junior School before going to St Olave’s prep school followed by St Peter’s Senior School. Richard recalls their teenage years as avid York City football and Yorkshire cricket fans. He remembers that they queued up to get tickets to see York City in the FA cup semi final in 1955 but he can’t recall whether they were actually successful in getting tickets – clearly a memorable match! It was actually 2-0 to Newcastle! He also recalls his brother talking in his sleep, usually commentating on a match and also Dad retiring to his bedroom to play a game that he had devised with cards revolving around cricket!
From St Peter’s he went to Edinburgh University where he studied for a combined degree at the same time as continuing his passion for cricket. We have discovered a lovely old scrap book which contains cuttings from the York and Edinburgh papers documenting matches that he was part of. Highlights were when he scored his maiden century in 1966 playing for the Old Peterites against his old school team and when he averaged 97 in his first 6 innings at Edinburgh University and went on to captain the team. He also kept in touch with St Peter’s, and his friends Malcolm Woodruff, Gordon Gildener and Jim Carr through his association with the Pandas hockey club. It is great to see Malcolm here today and Gordon and Jim’s widow, Liz are hopefully tuning in remotely. Gordon wrote to me about the setting up of the Pandas hockey club “we invited other old Peterite players to join – John was one. We had no organisation so John, then in his second year at University, volunteered to be Secretary, a role he held for many years thereafter. He was the glue that kept the pandas together then. From that original side which hadn’t won all season, two of us became county players. The club continues to prosper now, 58 years later and current England cricketer Jonny Bairstow is one of us! On the day of the Pandas annual dinner last year, Jonny flew in from playing in the IPL, saw his mum briefly, put on a suit and came to the dinner. That is what it meant to him and is a shared love of all involved. Your father was the bedrock on which that tradition was built.”
Having left University in July 1964 he took up a job at Smallwood Manor school in Staffordshire where he ended up staying until his retirement in July 1997, working his way through the ranks to be Head for a short period at the end. While at Smallwood he met our mum, Pam, and they were married in April 1971. I followed shortly afterwards and then, through some uncharacteristically bad planning, Jane arrived in the middle of the cricket season a year and a half later in July 1973 and then they were back on track another 18 months later when Rachel arrived in February 1975. In between Jane and me being born they moved from the Lodge at the end of the Smallwood drive into the Old Coach House and opened up the St Peter’s Boarding House, named after the school that he had been to and that clearly held an important place in his heart. David Ives, his boss for many years said of him – “John was a great schoolmaster and by that I mean he wasn’t just a teacher, but a very hardworking and, above all, caring Staff member. He went the extra mile, made good decisions, none more so than marrying your lovely Mother, another valued member of staff.” Another colleague, Sam Taylor, commented “I have always looked on John as the ideal schoolmaster – someone who knew his subject inside out and had a good rapport with his pupils. He was, in addition, totally loyal to whoever happened to occupy the headmaster’s study at Smallwood – and he must have notched up quite a number, he was an outstanding games coach, a brilliant deviser of timetables and an oasis of calm in a staff-room which was sometimes a sea of competing egos”. I still remember the board which he had with a series of tracks on it on which he put little tiles to represent the lessons when putting together the school timetable. This was done in the BC era, that is before computers, and, knowing how hard his writing was to read, I am not sure how any pupils knew which lesson they should be in but they seemed to. I also remember time spent each summer combining his loves of maths and cricket when we measured out the school cricket square, using pythagoras’ theorem to make sure that the square had right angles at its corners. It is great to see a former colleague and great family friend here today, John Jenkins – he wrote earlier in the week to say “I will always be grateful for the tremendous support and encouragement which your mum and dad gave me during my early days of teaching at Smallwood Manor, and I treasure great memories of all that we did there together and of very happy times spent with the Shouksmith family”. It wasn’t just colleagues, though, who have memories to look back on. All comments from former pupils follow a similar theme – one wrote “Truly a lovely man”, another said “a great teacher and role model for us all”, and another “the only man who made maths understandable to me. Also, a truly kind man”. Obviously, sport continued to play a large part in his life at the school and a particular highlight for him was teaching and coaching the great Alastair Hignell and then getting a mention in his book a number of years ago. Another former pupil recalled “John took a group of us on a school trip to Headingley for a day at the test. It was 1981 – Botham’s ashes. I still pinch myself when I think I was there.” It’s amazing what a small word the prep school world is. When I started at Birchfield in Shropshire, I met the school secretary and the first thing she said was “ah you must be John Shouksmith’s son – he used to arrange fixtures through me” and then we’d only been in Eastbourne a few days when someone knocked on our door to say that he knew Dad as well. He held strong religious beliefs but, for him, it was more about how he lived his life and the example that he showed to others. Another former pupil wrote “he was an exemplary teacher and man, giving me the perfect basis for maths and showing us all how to lead by moral and Christian example.” He was licensed to administer the wine at communion while at Smallwood and continued to do this at Ellastone Church. Smallwood Manor took up a large part of his life. Being a cricketer he was disappointed to leave after 99 terms but 99 terms that he looked back on with great fondness and very few regrets.
Away from the classroom the three of us all remember with great fondness, caravan holidays all over the British Isles and further afield to France and Germany, hours spent playing beach cricket and both watching cricket and helping to prepare cricket teas at Marchington Cricket Club where he played for many years and captained the team for a long period. A former pupil said “my favourite memory of your dad is when we went to watch a benefit cricket match between Marchington and Derbyshire. Michael Holding decided to give the crowd a treat by bowling off his full run, with your dad the unlucky facing batsman. He never let go of the ball, of course but I’ve told that story over beers a few times.” He also played for the Denstone Wanderers going on yearly tours down to Devon, taking the caravan and staying with his good friend Richard Jackson, known as Bongo to his pupils. Richard was so tall that the only place he could stand in the caravan was just below the skylight. My memories of those tours were him coming back home with an injury, usually not caused by cricket but an accident in the caravan such as pouring boiling water on his foot. When his playing days were over he became an umpire in the Staffordshire cricket league and was always proud of the high scores that he was awarded by captains at the end of matches – he was particularly pleased to be selected to umpire the final of the Staffordshire Cup on a few occasions. We also remember his love of gardening and are not sure quite how he had the time to keep a very long vegetable patch going alongside his school commitments. We enjoyed fruit and vegetables fresh from the garden each year and it was always fun coming back from holiday to see what had shot up in the garden while we had been away. In fact the lovely photo on the front of the service sheet is him by his garden shed. He also enjoyed music and was a keen member of the Uttoxeter Choral Society for a period while at Smallwood and then rejoined later on in retirement. He did play the piano, with a fairly limited repertoire – one former pupil wrote “I remember his occasional playing of the organ when Mr Slack was ill, for morning prayers and once at evensong (hymns only; I guess he thought the psalms and canticles a bit specialist).”
Mum and Dad retired to Ellastone in 1997 to a barn conversion built by an old cricketing friend and even named their house “the wickets”. They then began their travelling exploits visiting, among other places Australia, New Zealand, Namibia and Botswana, South Africa and Canada. They continued to go on caravanning holidays and became heavily involved in the church at Ellastone with Dad being treasurer and they threw themselves into village life. Dad took up golf and played at both Denstone College and The Manor Golf Club in Kingston – it is lovely to see two of his golfing companions here today and others are listening in. I know that he and Mum appreciated the great friendship that was shown to him by members of the golf club particularly when the struggle with Parkinson’s meant that he was barely able to finish his round of golf let alone drive home afterwards. This battle with Parkinson’s began in 2003 although in the first few years he was able to carry on with the things that he loved and they continued to enjoy holidays abroad with trips to Egypt both for Jane and Meena’s wedding and then the arrival of Daniel and Habiba. The photo on the back of the service sheet is of him on the beach in Dahab. He very much enjoyed time spent with the grandchildren and was always keen to find out how they were getting on and what they were up to. The younger children remember endless games of scrabble and dominoes while the older ones were always delighted to talk about sport and speak with someone who had a similar passion for it – they also appreciated the fact that he had Sky and BT Sports and was willing to share his password with them! One of the strange things about Parkinson’s was that he could struggle to get out of his chair and to walk through a door in the house but give him a ball and someone facing him with a bat and he could run up and bowl a ball to them without any problem. They moved to Doveridge a couple of years ago and then into The Old Lodge in Etwall earlier this year. We are all grateful for the care which Dad had from the Country Cousins carers and then from the staff at the Old Lodge. While the last few years have been a struggle for him the final decline in his health was mercifully short. I have dwelt more on the good times as I think those are the memories that we all want to treasure. In these strange times it is great that people are able to join us remotely as well as in person to celebrate a life fully lived, 49 of those years married to Mum with barely a cross word.
I think that the following sums up the thoughts of all of us and was written in a card which I received last week – “I hope that I can share with you in giving thanks for the life of an outstandingly good man, and in feeling a sense of blessed release for John that he is now free from the stress and indignity of illness and frailty”. Amen”
RIP John Arthur Shouksmith
6th October 1942 – 28th August 2020
aged 77 years