Obituary: Alan Elliott, housemaster & headmaster

For many years he was the chief marshall of the Old Course. Picture: Jane Barlow
For many years he was the chief marshall of the Old Course. Picture: Jane Barlow
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BORN: 1 May, 1924, in London. Died: 17 October, 2014, in Lundin Links, aged 90.

Alan Elliott was a dedicated and inspiring teacher whose ease of manner and agreeable personality were communicated to colleagues and pupils. He taught at Glenalmond College in Perthshire from 1954–76 and was housemaster of Matheson’s from 1962. He spent a decade at New Park in St Andrews before retiring to Lundin Links, where he pursued his lifelong love of golf with renewed vigour.

For many years he was the chief marshall of the Old Course and as recently as 2011 Elliott acted as honorary starter for the Brazil Nut Cup nine-hole Stableford competition for members over 70 on the Strathtyrum Course.

Elliott was a man devoted to his wife, Heather, and family, and is fondly remembered by generations of boys at Glenalmond and members of the R&A. As the official history of Glenalmond records: “Alan Elliott was the most complete master of his generation.”

Alan David Victor Elliott was the son of a schoolmaster at Mill Hill, which he himself attended. He read maths at Merton College, Oxford and during and after the war he served at the Royal Aircraft Establishment at Farnborough translating German. After teaching at Cheltenham College he joined Glenalmond in 1954.

He initially taught maths but his wide range of interests and abilities ensured that he also taught German and history – especially Scottish history on which he was an authority.

Elliott was an all-round sportsman and enthusiastically coached the 1st XI and for a few years the 1st XV. He was in charge of the naval section of the CCF and directed the Gilbert and Sullivan operas in the old gym with dramatic panache. He had a fine bass voice and often sang solos in works such as Handel’s Messiah. Elliott’s rendering of Why Do the Nations was always delivered with much flourish.

He was housemaster of Matheson’s where his concern for his boys’ welfare was paramount. He had the knack of finding the most suitable universities for their further education.

Elliott became a central character in the working of the school – he co-ordinated the entire exam timetables and taught Scottish country dancing.

As he strode through the cloisters he could be easily detected. Clouds of smoke billowed from the ever-present pipe through which one could spot a battered Tyrolean hat and an ancient gown. Elliott greeted everyone with an affable smile, chatting about anything.

In 1976 he accepted the post of headmaster of New Park, which suited his understanding of younger pupils and their well-being. Elliot was instrumental in ensuring the school’s expansion by making it co-educational.

That, in turn, led to its successful merger (after he retired) with St Leonards Junior School.

In 1984 he retired but remained active in many fields. He was a keen angler and often fished the lochs in the Highlands in the summer.

Elliott was a well-known figure in Fife. The minister at Largo and Newburn, the Rev John Murdoch, who conducted his funeral, recalls: “Alan has been such a wonderful presence here and a greatly esteemed elder of the Kirk.”

Elliott had started playing golf at six and was a single handicap player for many years. At Glenalmond he had done much to improve the course (widening the fairways helped many a young enthusiast) and his courteous manner made him an ideal choice as chief marshal at the Old Course for major competitions, including two Opens, the Dunhill International and, two events dear to his heart: the Autumn and Spring Medals.

The R&A paid tribute to Elliott: “Alan had been a member of the club since 1954. In 2007 he was made a life member in recognition of his distinguished service to the club, which included his role as R&A chief marshal and his organisation of the Town Match.”

He was one of the compilers of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club’s Golfer’s Handbook, which is edited by Renton Laidlaw, and was also involved in editing the Scottish section of the Sky Sports Yearbook.

Alan Elliott was a man of many disciplines who passed on his knowledge and expertise with a genial enthusiasm.

He had the gift of seeing each person as distinctive and interesting. “Alan provided the encouragement to allow a pupil to fulfil his potential,” one former student recalled. “He took students on camping trips in the Cairngorms and it always poured.

“I reminded him recently that we never caught any fish. Within days I got an e-mail detailing our catch. That was typical of Alan. He had a phenomenal memory for detail and names. He was excellent company and a fine example to all.”

Alan Elliott is survived by his wife Heather and their son and daughter.