Obituary John Carpenter

John Carpenter was born in Tiverton in Devon on Christmas Day 1925. He was, by a distance of six years, the youngest of six children and his early childhood was greatly influenced by his older brothers Richard, Bernard and Arthur, and by his sisters, Mary and Lena who took more than a little responsibility for bringing John up.

At the beginning of the War, the 13-year-old John went to Blundell’s School in Tiverton where he shone at Classics and enjoyed sport, including rugby and cricket. An important event took place during his Blundell’s years when, in 1942 aged 16, he went on a Harvest Camp which was organised for young people during the War. It was here that he met a certain Valmai Wells, Val, who was to become his wife in 1950. I remember Mum telling me that she had spotted John on the bus that took all the young people from the local railway station to the camp site and how she thought, from a distance, how handsome he looked. Later during that Harvest Camp, as fate would have it, her bike had a puncture, and John happened to be on hand to mend it for her. Their close bond can be traced to that summer of 1942, and while it is impossible to tell whether or not it would have been attained without that episode of bicycle maintenance, you can’t help wondering how different John’s life might have been if it had not been for that puncture.

John spent the tail end of the War in the Royal Navy, serving in the Far East and then Australia, celebrating his 21st birthday in Sydney, before returning home and going to read Classics at Cambridge, from where he graduated in 1950.

The 1950s saw the newly-married John and Val becoming parents of Susan, Nigel and me, and John establishing himself as a teacher, first at the Crypt School in Gloucester, and then, in 1957, moving to Beaminster Grammar School, living for two years in Broadwindsor before moving to Beaminster in 1959 to the home in Higher Green where he was to spend the remaining 53 years of his life.

In his early days of teaching in Beaminster there were plenty of pupils who wanted, or perhaps were persuaded or obliged, to learn Latin and Greek, and John took great pride in the successes of his pupils when they achieved good grades in “O” levels, “A” levels and, in one case, “S” level. But as the 60s turned into the 70s and 80s, the call for Latin and Greek declined and instead it was Roman History, Ancient History and Greek Literature in Translation that John taught with equal commitment and, in looking through cupboards and bookshelves at home over the past couple of weeks, we have been struck by just how much preparation John did and the many copious notes he made for the benefit of his pupils: pages and pages of neatly written background to all these Classical subjects.

Sadly in 1979 his much-loved wife, Val, passed away aged 55 but John showed enormous strength of character in coping with the loss that we all felt so keenly. John never complained and continued to be a supportive and loving father and carried on with his teaching career as well as involving himself wholeheartedly in Beaminster life. His retirement was a bit of a drawn out affair and it was only in 1995, aged 70, that he finally said farewell to Beaminster School. The following years were filled with some private coaching (the Latin and Greek resurfaced with that private coaching), singing with the Beaminster Singers and the Gallery Choir, Pub Quizzes (John’s speciality was knowing all the ranks, in the right order, in the Army, Navy and RAF), and enjoying many a pub meal with friends in the Greyhound, Red Lion and Pickwicks.

The 1990s also saw John becoming a Grandfather to Tom and Isabel. I remember asking him when Tom was born in 1995 whether he would like to be called Grandpa or Granddad. He said that he would much prefer Grandpa, as Granddad happened to be the nick-name that the young children at Beaminster School, no doubt with great affection, had chosen to give him in his final years there.

In 2007, John suffered a stroke from which he never fully recovered but he still looked forward to and enjoyed the regular visits from Susan – who, ever thoughtful, would bring gifts of clothing, or chocolates or something to read whenever she came down from London with Digby. And there were also visits from Olivia and his grandchildren, Tom and Isabel, and me, when we stopped by on the way to or from family holidays in Cornwall. Fortunately for John, and indeed for all the family, Nigel, who has been his constant companion for the past 30 years, was at home in Beaminster and able to be John’s full-time carer over the past five years. So, despite his ill-health, and thanks to Nigel, the last few years of John’s life were peaceful and lived at home in an environment that he knew and loved.

Finally, I wanted to thank everyone here today for coming, some of you from a long way away, and whether you are a member of the family, a friend or a former colleague or pupil, I say on behalf of all of us a fond “Good-bye” to Mr Carpenter, John, Dad, Grandpa. As a life-long teacher, you set us all a shining example with your kind, generous and loving nature, and perhaps the best lesson you ever taught us, was how we can all live our lives that little bit better for having known you.

Stephen Carpenter