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Family tribute to ex-Suffolk school head Nick Garrett

PUBLISHED: 19:16 23 May 2019 | UPDATED: 10:33 24 May 2019

Nicholas and Ruth Garrett at The Abbey. Ruth also worked with Nick as a school secretary for many years. They had met at university, aged 19, in 1982    Picture: FAMILY COLLECTION

Nicholas and Ruth Garrett at The Abbey. Ruth also worked with Nick as a school secretary for many years. They had met at university, aged 19, in 1982 Picture: FAMILY COLLECTION

Archant

Man who led The Abbey school, Woodbridge, for 18 years was 'driven by values of kindness, compassion, patience and integrity'

A family photograph at The Abbey in Woodbridge in September, 1997   Picture: FAMILY COLLECTIONA family photograph at The Abbey in Woodbridge in September, 1997 Picture: FAMILY COLLECTION

"Nick was a beacon of old-fashioned simple values - honesty, integrity, respect and work ethic. He lived and breathed these values day in and day out as Head of the Abbey and became a wonderful example not just to the pupils but parents also.

"I have not met anyone quite like Nick before. A class act in every way, he demonstrated to all how to get an A* in human decency."

It's a tribute anyone would be proud of.

The family of Nick Garrett, head of Woodbridge School's prep school for 18 years, is certainly appreciative of all the messages written.

Another Facebook posting says: "Nick Garrett was the main reason our children came to Woodbridge School. He made The Abbey such a special place with his warmth, professionalism and attention to detail. He knew what every child needed individually to progress successfully through the school.

"He would always go above and beyond the call of duty where his pupils were concerned. We will always feel privileged and fortunate that our children were in his care during their time at the school."

A young Nicholas Garrett when he was at school (Eastbourne College) in 1981   Picture: FAMILY COLLECTIONA young Nicholas Garrett when he was at school (Eastbourne College) in 1981 Picture: FAMILY COLLECTION

Nick died less than a week after his 56th birthday, following what the family says was a valiant fight against leukaemia. He was the most caring of men, they say - "incredibly driven by values of kindness, compassion, patience and integrity".

'Dependable in set-pieces'

Nicholas Jonathan Garrett was born to the late Margaret (Binkie) Garrett in May, 1963, at Eastbourne Maternity Hospital. He spent his early years moving around the world, because of father Christopher's army postings. Nick loved growing up within the military community.

At the age of nine he was sent back to the UK and started at Ascham Preparatory School, Eastbourne, where, the family says, two very good and kind class teachers (Christopher Edwards and Brian Alban) helped him get to grips with the basics and nurtured his self-confidence.

Rather than being a boarder, Nick chose to live in Pevensey Vicarage - as did brother Richard - with their lively grandparents. (Grandfather was the local vicar.)

Nick Garrett's graduation day in 1984: a  BA Hons in history and education    Picture: FAMILY COLLECTIONNick Garrett's graduation day in 1984: a BA Hons in history and education Picture: FAMILY COLLECTION

An idyllic childhood included climbing over the castle and playing in the vicarage orchards.

In 1976 Nick moved on to Eastbourne College and joined Reeves House (his father had been a member). He enjoyed school life, particularly history, rowing and rugby, and surprised himself with a few 1st XV appearances. In the Eastbournian Magazine in 1981 he was described as being "tremendously solid and dependable in set-pieces".

Nick rose to the rank of company sergeant major in the Combined Cadet Force (a military-based youth organisation) and attended a range of camps, including a parachute course with the army. He also enjoyed singing in The Dream of Gerontius and South Pacific, although in his own words he was never known for the quality of his singing.

"I do think that growing up with links with the Church and the military fostered my father's sense of community and of duty," says younger daughter Lara. "He didn't pursue either of those strands as a career, but community and duty were important to him."

After five happy years Nick joined Bishop Otter College in Chichester, where he read history and education. He still played rugby, and made the college's 1st XV team for three consecutive seasons.

"My father wrote that his greatest success at college was to meet Ruth, the love of his life, who he went on to marry in 1988," says Lara.

Nicholas Garrett in Sepember, 1997,  following his appointment as Master of The Abbey   Picture: FAMILY COLLECTIONNicholas Garrett in Sepember, 1997, following his appointment as Master of The Abbey Picture: FAMILY COLLECTION

Ruth was studying English. "They got together when they were 19. Fundamentally, they were good friends first, and then fell for each other very quickly. They had a very strong marriage. He really was a family man through and through, and they were always known as a team."

Water fight on boat ride

After completing his degree, Nick decided to stay on at the college and study for a Postgraduate Certificate in Education.

His teaching career began with a first post at St John's Prep School in Northwood, Middlesex. A lover of skiing, Nick introduced school ski trips that proved very popular.

In 1990 he returned home and joined St Andrew's Prep School in Eastbourne as head of history. It was during this period that Nick and Ruth's two daughters - Anna and Lara, now 28 and 25 - were born.

Nick Garrett in 2011. He's with Martin Sylvester, former Woodbridge mayor and currently a Woodbridge School governor and Woodbridge town councillor   Picture: ARCHANT ARCHIVENick Garrett in 2011. He's with Martin Sylvester, former Woodbridge mayor and currently a Woodbridge School governor and Woodbridge town councillor Picture: ARCHANT ARCHIVE

After two years the couple were asked to take over the running of the boys' boarding house. These were happy days, as the family was extended by 80 boys for five years.

"That was a real family environment. Mum would make hot chocolate for the boys and we'd do story-time altogether, and things like that," remembers Anna.

Weekends were busy, with boarders' trips around the south east. On one occasion Nick was summoned to meet the management of Chessington World of Adventures after his charges decided to have a water fight on a boat ride…

At the school, Nick coached teams and took on responsibility for the athletics team and the running of sports day.

To Suffolk

A photograph of Ruth and Nick Garrett at a wedding of colleagues at The Abbey   Picture: FAMILY COLLECTIONA photograph of Ruth and Nick Garrett at a wedding of colleagues at The Abbey Picture: FAMILY COLLECTION

In 1997 Nick was appointed as The Master of The Abbey - the preparatory department for Woodbridge School. He was one of the youngest prep school heads in the country and would lead The Abbey for 18 years.

Anna says: "Part of my father's legacy is in the two rules he instilled: 1) To always do your best in whatever you do; 2) Always treat others as you would wish to be treated, or even better."

"To this day, many former pupils have remembered these rules and they have been quoted back to us a great deal in the days since he died," says Lara.

The family says his achievements included:

* Creating a new music school within The Abbey grounds

* Creating new art facilities and ensuring creativity was an integral part of the curriculum

Nicholas Garrett compering The Abbey Sports Day in 2008    Picture: FAMILY COLLECTIONNicholas Garrett compering The Abbey Sports Day in 2008 Picture: FAMILY COLLECTION

* Ensuring the school was an incredibly happy place (as described by many), as he felt a happy child would be able to succeed in whatever they chose to do

* Ensuring The Abbey was an inclusive environment - there was a place for everyone and all pupils were made to feel welcome and supported

* Making sure all pupils felt valued by introducing school awards beyond academia/sports/music. "My father believed education was about the development of the whole person, not just the grades they received," says Anna.

"He was never a headmaster confined to a study - he taught regularly throughout his headship, insisting on keeping timetabled subjects so that he was always aware of pupils and staff."

Labels on the pegs

Nick Garrett says a prayer at a Queen's Jubilee lunch at the Abbey School in Woodbridge in 2012   Picture: Su AndersonNick Garrett says a prayer at a Queen's Jubilee lunch at the Abbey School in Woodbridge in 2012 Picture: Su Anderson

Lara says: "He ran an extracurricular art class; he gave extra tuition to pupils who were worried about their work; he listened to children during break-time and lunch, and whenever they needed his help; he ran 'Lego club' with all year groups.

"He was always available to any pupil who needed his help and had an open door policy for pupils, staff and parents.

"My father led by example - he would always help with putting together/clearing up after an event; he helped the catering staff as much as possible by serving drinks and food at school functions; he spent time during school holidays updating the cloakrooms. I can testify to this as my sister and I would help him stick labels on all the pegs.

"My father wrote individual, personal, Abbey postcards to every pupil who joined the school, regardless of whether they had come from the pre-prep or a different school.

"There are so many anecdotes that speak of his extraordinary care of the pupils who came to The Abbey, but also of his sense of 'fun' and his desire to ensure children had the opportunity to be children.

"One such example is that during snowy days at school he would split the school field into 'snowmen-building' and sledging - all of which he would supervise and partake in."

Ruth, Anna, Lara and Nick Garrett at their farewell event at The Abbey, in June, 2015   Picture: FAMILY COLLECTIONRuth, Anna, Lara and Nick Garrett at their farewell event at The Abbey, in June, 2015 Picture: FAMILY COLLECTION

Nick was part of the community - he would regularly take part in the annual Woodbridge 10km race; for many years he was a member of the Woodbridge Museum committee; and he sat on a board and advised Suffolk County Council on child protection issues in independent education.

Nick was also a school inspector, travelling around the UK as part of the Independent Schools Inspectorate team.

A too-brief new adventure

After 18 years, and at the age of 51, Nick decided to leave The Abbey to pursue a life-long ambition to work abroad. He and Ruth were both appointed to a large, private British prep school in Abu Dhabi where Nick was head teacher and Ruth his PA.

He enjoyed the challenge of running a school in which 48 different nationalities were represented.

Nicholas Garrett in Abu Dhabi, where he concluded his career. He was head teacher of a British school there from 2015 to 2017     Picture: FAMILY COLLECTIONNicholas Garrett in Abu Dhabi, where he concluded his career. He was head teacher of a British school there from 2015 to 2017 Picture: FAMILY COLLECTION

Sadly, his time abroad was cut short by illness and the couple returned to his home town, where Nick was looked after with compassion and care at Eastbourne District General Hospital.

He died there - surrounded by love, with his wife, daughters and father - after spending much of the past 18 months battling acute myeloid leukaemia.

He's celebrated as a dedicated family man who loved travel and adventure, and always took his family everywhere in the world with him.

Nick's legacy

"We had a wonderful upbringing in Suffolk, where often we would all walk to school together," says Anna. "It is no coincidence that my sister and I have both become teachers and that our mother works at a school.

"My father inspired us and we all want to continue his legacy in education, hopefully instilling the values that he so believed in."

Anna is head of department at a school in Cambridge. Lara is joining a school in Sussex in September.

Does Anna recognise his traits in herself?

"Yes - 100%. When I took over as head of department, my father gave me some advice: Treat all with kindness.

"So, yes, I'm constantly thinking 'What would my father do?' And I think that probably goes for my sister as well."

Both went to The Abbey - dad was their headmaster! - and on to Woodbridge School. Their formative years were therefore spent in Suffolk.

"The friends we have now, in our mid to late 20s, are the people we met when we were seven years old and five years old. Woodbridge is an incredibly special place and the school - partly because of my father and partly Stephen Cole, who was head of the senior school - really fostered an inclusive environment."

Did Nick take to Suffolk?

"Yes, he did," says Lara. "I think he missed living (right) by the sea, and he really missed The South Downs, but I think he loved what Suffolk gave us as a family: the opportunity to grow up and be so together. We did have a really lovely time.

"So although it wasn't quite as hilly as he would have liked, we loved the countryside and surrounding towns."

Anna says her father would also travel - sometimes far and wide - to support any pupil competing in an event. "So he'd be at Poplar Park (Hollesley) for horse trials; he'd be at sailing events. He wasn't just a nine to five, Monday to Friday, kind of person."

She says people's kind words about her father "have made the past week manageable", and adds: "We have received a great deal of emails/letters - from past pupils, colleagues and those who knew my dad - who referred to his extraordinary ability to treat all with empathy, kindness and respect, whilst maintaining an excellent sense of humour.

"He was an extraordinary judge of character and treated all fairly. These were evidently what made him such a good headmaster, but equally seem to be his defining traits that are most remembered by all who met him."

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