Tributes: Former Ipswich Northgate teacher John Eaton. Did you know him?
PUBLISHED: 18:04 20 February 2019 | UPDATED: 18:48 20 February 2019
Former Northgate teacher John Eaton has died. He spent more than 35 years at the Ipswich school – teaching geography and advising on careers as well as higher and further education opportunities.
Caroline Carr’s family first met John Eaton and his wife Diana in 1988, when the Carrs moved in next-door. “We have three children (grown up now), so I am sure it sounded like a playground next door sometimes!” she says.
“We stayed there for seven years and have always remained close friends.” Here is her tribute to John.
“John was born in 1935 in Newton-le-Willows, Lancashire. The first in his family to enter higher education, he left the local grammar school to study for an honours degree in geography, followed by a Certificate in Education, at St Catherine’s College, Oxford, from 1953 to 1957.
“After a short spell teaching in an independent school in Devon, John was appointed assistant geography teacher at Northgate Grammar School for Boys in 1957.”
The school would, within 20 years of him starting, witness “huge changes in educational policy and structural changes on site, going from a small boys’ grammar school of 350 pupils to a large mixed comprehensive school in 1977 with a peak of 2,200 pupils.
“Appointed senior teacher, John was given responsibility to develop a career education and work experience programme for the school – one of the first grammar schools in the country to do so.
“With a strong sixth-form of 650 students, this was a specialist area for him to organise – helping to place A-level students with local firms and into higher and further education.”
On the domestic front, home was a house in the Colchester Road/Woodbridge Road East area, where John would live for more than 50 years.
He was married to Diana for more than half a century, too. She died in 2010. “They didn’t have any children and both were only children,” says Caroline. “They did have loads of friends, though, and they were great travellers – the geographer in him!
“John retired in 1995 after 38 years of continuous service at Northgate, covering two generations of families.
“John’s long-standing interest in education, many sports, walking, gardening and stamp collecting continued into his retirement. For the last 20 years he has worked with the Suffolk Schools Golf Association to promote golf to the young pupils in our schools and has also sponsored students to his college at Oxford.”
The Carrs lived next-door to the Eatons for seven years “and remained close friends. I know he encouraged pupils at Northgate to aim for university and he was very proud of their achievements.
“He was an inspiration and remained so interested in life and everyone he knew right up until the end.”
Caroline adds: “John enjoyed concerts at Snape and had a keen interest in art, at home and abroad. His garden was his pride and joy and he would often be seen leaning on his spade in the front garden, chatting to people who had stopped to admire it.
“John’s many friends would describe him as an intelligent, sociable, interesting, kind and loyal friend who had a keen sense of humour and who always had time for them. Above all, he was a true gentleman.”
John’s funeral takes place at Seven Hills Crematorium, Felixstowe Road, Nacton, on February 28.
Cows, and Cup dreams
Archant writer Steven Russell was taught by John Eaton at the post-punk Boney M/Bee Gees/Chic end of the 1970s. He pays his own tribute:
In the 1970s I found myself living in the Teachers’ Quarter of north-east Ipswich. There was a German teacher at the end of the road, Latin and maths teachers on my paper-round route, and a couple of geography ones in the next street, including John Eaton.
I was taught by four of them, and I delivered a Daily Telegraph to the fifth – mathematician Mr Butters – six days a week.
Poor Mr Eaton had his work cut out trying to lodge abstract notions such as Dutch polder-building in my brain. Ditto rock erosion.
Still, I did pass – something that ranks just below similar O-level successes in maths, chemistry and biology for educational miracles.
We most remember the teachers who showed their human side, don’t we? On a series of Mondays in 1978, John Eaton allowed us to break off from the study of magma or Danish dairy farming to huddle around a tinny portable radio. Ipswich Town were on their triumphant march towards FA Cup glory and we willed the crackling to settle down so we could learn their opponents in each round.
He was as excited as us (though quieter).
Later, as careers master (and presumably to show the insurance industry really wasn’t deadly dull), he’d often mention how Ipswich-based Willis Faber had played a part in the transfer of England’s first £1million footballer, Trevor Francis.
Mr Eaton also arranged numerous trips to potential employers – including remember Pauls the malsters, Suffolk Constabulary and the Evening Star/East Anglian Daily Times.
Personally, the first two were always non-starters as career choices, but – after a number of twists and turns – the local newspaper business proved a good fit (though a number of colleagues, down the years, might well disagree quite violently…)
John also made great effort to help pupils win a university place – and not just the Oxbridge contenders, either. He regularly praised universities such as Loughborough – which, alongside its academic record, was also a sporting powerhouse.
Runner Sebastian Coe was a Loughborough success at the time. We did smile (always with respect, of course) when John muddled up Seb with arch rival Steve Ovett and started talking about “Steve Coe”.
He gave all of us something to help us on our way in life. I hope he’d be pleased to learn I still know the difference between scree and talus – if somewhat surprised it had sunk in…
Enthusiasm and gentle wit
Sarah Wilson, chair of Suffolk School Golf Association, says: “John volunteered with the association, acting as treasurer for many years. He ensured we had funding wherever possible, as well as securing sponsorship from our long-term sponsors, Ransomes Jacobsen.
“Without this sort of work the association would not be able to fund the events that have allowed, and continue to allow, youngsters of all ages and abilities throughout the county to take part in golf.
“But as well as his treasurer’s role he regularly attended events to help with organising and encouraging the youngsters – he will be greatly missed for his enthusiasm, efficiency and gentle wit, which kept us amused.”