A former Head of Modern Languages and Senior Master at Sutton, John died aged 81 on 17 July 2013. So many members of his family, former colleagues and other friends crowded into the chapel at Weston Mill Crematorium, Plymouth, that some had to remain standing for the whole of the hour-long funeral service.
It was in 1973 that he moved to Plymouth with his wife, Sandra, and their two daughters, Nicola and Lysel. For the next 12 years he earned a reputation as an excellent teacher and French linguist, and for his loyalty and wry sense of humour. Among the many letters of condolence his family received, again and again tributes were paid to his professionalism, thoughtfulness and kindliness.
He was highly respected not only among his colleagues, but also by his pupils. One of the first of those he taught after coming to Sutton said of him, “I always thought of him as one of the better ones, always approachable.” Coming from a pupil, that is high praise indeed. And a former colleague adds, “He was an inspiring teacher, kind, but strict – no-one messed with John!”
Born in Yorkshire in 1932, John moved with his parents to St Anne’s-on-Sea, Lancashire, where he attended Fleetwood Grammar School. In 1951 he went to Leicester University, graduating in 1956 with an honours degree in French. While at Leicester, he played rugby for the University 1st XV, and, during a year out in France, for Amiens.
He began his teaching career at the newly opened Bletchley Grammar School, becoming Head of Modern Languages after one year. He captained Bletchley Rugby Club and, while attending a Rugby Club ball, met his future wife, Sandra, marrying her in 1962. They then moved to Linslade, Bedfordshire, where their daughters were born.
Moving to Plymouth in 1973, John was Head of Modern Languages at Sutton, and later was appointed Senior Master. When it was decided to close Sutton, he moved at the end of the summer term 1985 to Devonport High School for Boys as Head of Modern Languages. He retired six years later, remaining in Plymouth.
A colleague who first met John at Devonport High says of him, “He steadied the ship when the Modern Languages department was in need of a strong and experienced leader. He was respected by colleagues and students alike for his inspirational work.”
A keen historian, he took great interest in 18th century history and military history, always asking his family for books on the subject at Christmas and birthdays. One of his great passions was working as a volunteer guide at Saltram National Trust property. He greatly enjoyed his Tuesdays there, also taking groups of French visitors around the house, as well as doing a lot of translation work of the printed room guides for visitors. He even arranged his holidays and days away around it, insisting that he had to be back in time – sometimes to the frustration of Sandra and the rest of his family!
A keen bridge player, he also travelled all over the world, including the Far East, and spent three winters staying with friends in Australia.
He continued his passion for rugby throughout retirement, went to Twickenham on numerous occasions to watch internationals, and attended the Exeter Chiefs rugby team when he could. Despite being extremely ill towards the end, his family managed to get the Lions tour on a laptop so he could watch it in bed!
What do his friends say of him? A few comments represent those from a much larger number: “He had a gentle sense of humour and kindness … I always enjoyed talking with him about books, politics, history and France; our shared ironic sense of humour added to the pleasure of the conversation … He will be very much missed and we will remember his friendship with gratitude and affection … I marvelled at the way he so easily handled the cryptic crosswords in the Daily Telegraph! … He was truly one of life’s gentlemen. Loving and caring of his family and always concerned for and interested in his friends.”
And his family – what do they say of him? “He was a very loving, caring and proud husband, father and grandfather. Very brave, determined, courageous and always optimistic throughout his illness which he fought unremittingly, right through to the very end.”
No husband, father, or grandfather could hope for better praise, nor deserve it more than John Alan Sanderson.
Two Old Suttonians took an active part in the funeral: David Blackmore (1942-48) as organist, and the Rev John Fairweather Tall (1944-49) who conducted it.
Many thanks to Rev John Fairweather Tall for this contribution.
Roger Willis [1976-83]