Obituary: Dereck Aloysius Fowles MBE, teacher

Warm-hearted history teacher who had a passion for theatre and sailing
Warm-hearted history teacher who had a passion for theatre and sailing
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Born: 26 February, 1927, in Bristol. Died: 3 November 2013, in Drymen, aged 86

His parents, Mary Margaret Cole (whose family was originally Irish) and Walter John Fowles, had met during the First World War when Walter was serving as a Regimental Sergeant Major in the Royal Signals. They were married at the Sacré Coeur, Paris in 1918. His mother had been educated at a convent in Belgium and was working at the time as a governess to a French Count who lived on the Avenue Victor Hugo.

When the war ended they moved back to Britain, but his father, a trained draughtsman, was unable to find work in that profession, so he joined the Post Office, where he stayed for the rest of his working life, retiring as an inspector.

Having finished primary school with an order of nuns, Dereck was sent to the Christian Brothers School but joined the Navy in 1944 as a midshipman. He served in the Australian Pacific region, under attack from Kamikaze raiders at Okinawa and was on the King George V battleship when the peace treaty was signed with Japan on 2 September, 1945 in Tokyo Bay.

He was demobbed in 1947 and came home to study English and History at Bristol University. He also found time to work at the Bristol Old Vic, studying stage management, production, direction and lighting.

During his time there he was involved in the production of several plays in the 1947-48 season, including Leonid Leonov’s The Apple Orchards, which featured Allan Cuthbertson, Paul Rogers, Elizabeth Sellars, Donald Sinden and Jane Wenham.

Quite by chance, he met Sybil Grace Sparey and her friend Paddy at Brights department store on Queens Road. It was the 23 April, 1948 and they had both just finished a shift as nurses at a local hospital.

Paddy caught sight of a man she had been nursing and with him was Dereck, wearing his demob gear and porkpie hat. He hair was dishevelled and he looked a mess, but Paddy asked Michael to join them and Sybil and Dereck hit it off. They were engaged three weeks later.

He graduated with BA Honours in History and English in 1949. Marriage followed on 16 September, 1950.

To pay the £27 cost of the wedding Dereck worked nightshifts in a bakery, finishing at 6am on the day of the wedding. Their honeymoon was spent on the Isle of White with friends. His first teaching post was at Prior Park, Bath. After a year, they decided to go to the elite Harrison College in Barbados, founded in 1733.

They arrived in Jamaica by sea, spent ten days there then flew to Barbados. Sybil’s first child was on the way. First they stayed in the headmaster’s house then in the garrison and finally a little house on the beach.

He continued his love of theatre, not only producing plays with the pupils of Harrison College, but also with the Barbados Theatrical Society, which he joined. They had a busy social life, with sailing and water polo. Dereck took part in Cinderella as an ugly sister. He produced Hamlet at the college, where he also taught the cricketer Sir Gary Sobers.

He returned to the UK to teach, first in Liverpool, then in Sunderland. In 1956 he went to the Abbey School, Fort Augustus. He made an immediate mark, as many of his former pupils testify. One said: “One of his sayings has always stuck with me: ‘By their fruits you will know them.’”

Another said: “I remember Dereck as a charismatic and warm-hearted, humorous teacher and I did read history as part of my degree at Edinburgh. But drama was the most significant gift that Fort Augustus gave me.

“Theatre and then drama in education have been mainstays in my life, culturally and professionally, and I have Dereck to thank for that.”

One of his other students added: “His method of teaching was a Socratic one; he would try to involve every kid in the class, many of whom were unenthusiastic. He would ask a question about some historical figure, and upon not getting much of an answer, I remember him saying, in his precise enunciation, ‘Because he was from Babylon, boy.’ My classmates and I would endlessly repeat this phrase, trying to imitate his voice.”

Sybil recalled that Dereck was never home as he was always at school. He cycled to school each day but he was always late on the Sunday lunch at the Caledonian Hotel and they had six whiskies lined up on the bar, waiting for him.

The Liberal politician Russell Johnson was a close friend.

In the spring of 1957 Dereck was driving to Inverness and, near Urquhart Castle at Drumnadrochit, he saw “a hump like and upturned boat” and a smaller object, “like the head of a seal”. He was certain that it was the Loch Ness Monster.

Dereck left the Abbey School in 1963 to become head of history at Notre Dame in Dumbarton. In 1974 he left Notre Dame and moved to St Patrick’s in Coatbridge as deputy head and then was appointed rector at St Margaret’s, Airdrie.

Frank Berry, who would succeed him when Dereck retired in 1992, remembered that he was “always ahead of his time in curriculum development, making learning child-centred and he pioneered innovative teaching methods, setting up a very effective guidance system”.

Dereck emphasised the importance of school uniforms but also motivated staff, students, parents and local businesses to raise money to buy Auchterawe House, just outside Fort Augustus, to which staff and students came to cook, clean and enjoy the magnificent scenery – to become confident learners.

After he retired Dereck channelled his immense energies and talents into Buchanan Community Council and as chairman of the Lomond and Stirling LEADER, a European Union community initiative that emphasised co-operation between rural areas.

In the 2010 honours list Dereck was awarded the MBE for his services to the community in the Forth Valley and Lomond Local Action Group.

In his spare time Dereck enjoyed fresh water fishing –trout and salmon mainly. He remained a sailor all his life, his favourite places being the Greek islands, followed by the Clyde basin.

Funeral Mass was at St Anthony’s, Balfron, followed by interment at Drymen Cemetery.

Along with Sybil, Dereck leaves five children, 11 grandchildren and one great-grandchild.