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David Byatt Memorial Address

I first met David, or Dadie as he was known to his friends, when he joined Gordonstoun in 1971, having been appointed Deputy Head by the Headmaster John Kempe. A year later, when Jack le Quesne retired as Second Master, David took over the role and made it his own.

The job of Second Master is necessarily ill-defined, but every successful school needs a David Byatt figure in that role. Someone who commands the respect of staff and pupils alike, who will work his socks off for the sake of all associated with the school, and who will act as a link between every department of the school, including parents and Governors, and the Headmaster.  Gordonstoun was incredibly fortunate to have such a man as David in that position.  My abiding memory of him is of him standing here, at this very lectern, standing very straight and very tall, with his hands clasped in front of him, and speaking with authority and sincerity in a way which guaranteed attention.

His role of Second Master required multi-skilling and multi-tasking “ par excellence” with duties which initially included the school travel lists at the end of term and, more taxing, accompanying the school train down to London on what the then British Rail used to call “Black Monday”.  He also used to supervise Penalty Drill on the South Lawn on Saturday afternoons.  Penalty Drill, or PD, for those of you not in the know was a punishment in which boys and girls would walk and run around the South Lawn for periods of time ranging from 15mins to 1hour.  It was supervised by House Staff and David, typically, included his own name in the rota of supervisors which he drew up as he thought it was the fair thing to do.

Of his time as Second Master, a senior member of staff wrote of David “He pretty much invented the role and filled it with dignity and skill, becoming an essential stable force for both pupils and staff. As time went by, he became the public figure of authority in the school community.... He was not only in harmony with Hahn’s ideals for education, in many ways he embodied them with his schooldays under Hahn, his naval experience, his love of the sea, his firm moral views, his encouragement of endeavour, and his ability to get on with people without diluting his purpose......In all his dealings with teenagers, he never made the mistake of trying to be popular or of avoiding decisions that might disappoint”.

In addition to Second Master, he became director of Activities, Head of Coastguards, he compiled a book of memories of Kurt Hahn, and organised innumerable events such as Services Day, which over the years, has become Open Day. He was one of the founder members of what was the Round Square Conference, but is now known as Round Square - a world-wide group of schools which share the ideals and vision of Kurt Hahn. Only this morning, at assembly here in this building, I was privileged to hear four students and a teacher recount their wonderfully fulfilling experiences working for the Round Square International Service in remote areas of South Africa and Peru. For all this, David was a fount of knowledge and advice on the issues which lie at the heart of this remarkable school and movement, a role which he relished.

And, in addition to all this, he taught Biology!  No wonder that when he became Warden, it was reckoned that it needed five people to cover what he had done single-handed for nearly twenty years! Also, he served three Headmasters; that is half of all the Heads which Gordonstoun had had in its entire history.

He could adapt to most things although occasionally, there were unintentional hiccups.  When girls first started at Gordonstoun, there were strenuous discussions at staff meetings about how they should be addressed. Until then, as a boys' school, it had been surnames only.  Some of the staff decided that that they would continue to call everyone, boys and girls, by their surnames.  Some opted to call the boys by their surnames and girls by their Christian names.  Some chose to call everyone by their Christian names.  David came up with his own solution.  He called all the girls Miss - Miss Smith, Miss Brown or whatever; and he called all the boys Master - Master Jones, Master Williams etc.  I am assured that this system worked well until one embarrassing day in a Year 10 Biology class after which he never used the system again!

Of another Biology class, a former girl pupil writes:  “ Sitting quietly listening.  Wearing nail varnish (not allowed) but listening intently. Byatt disappears out the back and returns with the biggest bottle of acetone that I have ever seen and places it silently in front of me with some cotton balls. To this day, whenever I see nail varnish remover, I think of David Byatt with great amusement and many good memories.”

Perhaps his most fulfilling time was when he ran the school for a term in 1989 while the Headmaster, Michael Mavor, was on sabbatical.  David was a great success which should have come as no surprise because he had run his own school for ten years before he had come to Gordonstoun.

Several staff have commented about his term as Head:

“He was so accessible; his door was always open”.  “I particularly enjoyed his term as Headmaster”.  “The best time at Gordonstoun was when David was Head.  Everyone was much more relaxed”.  “While he was acting Head, the school thrived under the secure, calm, certainty of his care”. “He was a strong man with a gift of leadership, especially when he was Headmaster”.

Last week, I was having dinner with six ex-members of Cumming House where I was Housemaster from 1972 to 1983. The occasion was their realisation that they had all reached the age of 50 and, by way of celebration, they had decided to have dinner together in London and to invite their old Housemaster along. It was an extremely good evening but that’s another story!

Knowing that I was coming here to give this address, I asked them for their memories of David who had been Deputy Head throughout their time at Gordonstoun.  Here are a few of their comments and I should say that they were not the best behaved, or most upright of citizens while they were at school.

“He was the quiet, dignified, voice of authority in the school”

“He perfected the art of speaking quietly so that we had to listen to what he said because what he said was worth hearing”.

“We knew that we could trust him and he was always fair – strict but fair”.

When he was in charge of Cumming House for a time while you were away recovering from an operation, he surprised us because he seemed to know what we were going to do, before we had even thought of doing it!”

“Somehow, I was invited to sail his boat with him from Hopeman to Inverness. The trip has remained lodged in my memory for two reasons. First, we were escorted all the way down the Moray Firth by a school of dolphins. The second was I remember thinking how much nicer Masters were outside of school! I was 16 at the time”

I think David would have been chuffed to know of the affection and esteem contained in these remarks.

Of the many tributes which Mary has received, to me the most powerful one, and the one of which David himself would have been most proud, came from an ex Chairman of the Gordonstoun Association.

“I always felt, as did other contemporaries, that Dadie was the essential link, and a pivotal one, between the Gordonstoun of the Hahn era and the various regimes which followed it.  As long as he was around, the original ethos of the place - too often overlooked latterly-would not be forgotten; the ideal Warden in fact”.

I shall finish with the words of Kurt Hahn, spoken to Mary in 1961.  He said of David: “Dadie is a born leader; people will follow him wherever he goes.”  Actually, things didn’t work out quite like that but, to all of us who knew him, David was an outstanding example, a fine man, and a colossus of Gordonstoun.

P.S.L. October 2012.


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