Dr Roger Baxter (Former Headmaster 1981-1995)

Dr Roger G Baxter (Former Headmaster 1981-1995)

The OS Club is saddened to share the news that former Headmaster Roger Baxter passed away on 21st February 2022. Roger was Headmaster of Sedbergh from 1981-95 and lived locally at Lindale. He had recently battled a series of complex medical issues and passed away peacefully with his wife, Dorothy, and family at his bedside. He will be sadly missed by all.

Sedbergh School will be holding a Memorial Service for Roger in the School Chapel on Sunday 12th June at 3pm. Headmaster, Dan Harrison, also warmly invites all those who wish to pay their respects to Roger for refreshments in Queen’s Hall after the service. Please contact Ben Collins at bpc@sedberghschool.org if you plan on attending.

Roger came to Sedbergh from Winchester and oversaw an ambitious programme of refurbishment and building including the Sports Hall, Queen’s Hall, Boarding Houses and classrooms. In 1989, numbers rose above 500 for the first time in the School’s history.

Please click here or see below an appreciation by Sir Giles Shaw M.P. (L 45-50) which was published in the 1995 Sedberghian magazine upon Roger’s retirement from Sedbergh.

Roger was a graduate and Ph.D of the University of Sheffield where he lectured for some years in mathematics before moving to the milder climes of Winchester College. There, in addition to his normal classroom duties, he exercised the role of Under Master, having previously been elected Secretary of the Common Room by his perspicacious fellow Dons who had clearly spotted a future Headmaster of Sedbergh in the making.

Roger arrived at Sedbergh from Winchester in January 1982 as successor to Peter Attenborough and tackled his job with energy and determination. He was determined to lift academic performance and appointed and structured his staff to provide a wide range of subject teaching to ensure that Sedberghians could optimise their individual talents in subjects of their choice. He appointed good staff and successful staff. It is, I think, a positive reflection on his choice that many moved on to headmasterships, like John Light, first to Oswestry and now to Edinburgh Academy. Or Martin Stevens, first to The Perse School, Cambridge and now High Master at Manchester. To Angus McPhail, now Headmaster of Strathallan. And Tony Thomas, from Housemaster of Evans House to Headmaster of Casterton.

Roger was a great one for diversification. More subjects are now studied, more sports are now played. More boys do more things in many avenues of endeavour than ever before. Sedbergh life now includes a social programme of joint activities with other organisations and schools, and particularly close cooperation with Casterton and with St Anne’s at Windermere. The life of the Sedberghian under Roger’s tutelage became therefore brighter, fuller and better. But I think it was in his drive to renovate and develop the School’s estate that we find the permanent memorial to the Baxter years – the Sports Hall, Queen’s Hall, the modernisation and refurbishment of all the School’s boarding houses and most of the School’s property. A capital programme was determined, designed and delivered within a time span which coincided with large increases in the number of boys in school and therefore large increases in revenue.

This wise insistence on investing in the future allowed the School to present a new and shining face to the parents of the Nineties. Roger Baxter’s relations with parents showed his humanity and sensitivity to good effect. He was particularly adept at coping with parents who had fallen on hard times and in making wise use of bursaries to enable those boys of promise to sustain their career when it was threatened. Parents responded to his approachable and warm personality, and many have written in appreciation of what he meant to them. One of many wrote to him, “I would like to say how extremely sorry I am that you are leaving. You have fostered an atmosphere in which boys can learn to be themselves: rugby friends, academics, musicians, whatever. And so my son is now starting to blossom and is at case with himself.” That is a tribute which many parents would echo and is a powerful endorsement of the man.

Roger sought expansion too. Faced in later years with increasing competition, recruitment was widened and strong links were established with schools in Germany and France. Successful efforts have been made to draw boys from Hong Kong and the Far East, and the School’s presence in the Prep School market was established and confirmed with the development of Cressbrook House. All this led to improvements in academic results: the highest percentages to Degree courses, emphatically shown by the total of ten entrants to Oxford and Cambridge in 1994, and better performances in exam grades at ‘GCSE’ and ‘A’ Level.

Meanwhile, sporting achievements still ranked high in the Baxter years. Will Carling still at the zenith of his fame, with many other Sedberghians achieving international representation at various levels, establishes the School’s rugby prowess beyond doubt. The name of Sykes displaced the name of Pumphrey in the annual of the Wilson Run after nearly a century. What a milestone that was in 1993. And then there was music and drama. And this allows me to turn to the immense contribution which Roger’s wife Dorothy played in these successful years. Productions large and small. Musical or dramatic, operas or operettas, chamber concerts or symphonies, the musical life of Sedbergh has never been more prolific. And Roger and Dorothy, together with the inspired appointment of Christopher Tinker, brought a new zeal and energy to the cultural side of the School. Whether playing the double bass in the school orchestra in Powell Hall or belting out Belshazzar’s Feast in Ripon Cathedral, Dorothy was a versatile and full hearted contributor to the school. The long-term benefit, however, is that the reputation of Sedbergh for music has resulted in scholarships and entrants from far and wide coming here for that purpose. And this too, I trust, will be a lasting memorial to the Baxter years.

Finally, let me turn to the pastoral role. Roger Baxter made a deep and personal commitment to the spiritual welfare of this School. This is an important dimension to the Headmaster’s role and springs from the fact that Roger’s faith was an important influence on his life and career. He loved the Chapel; and how glad he was that a replacement organ was found and purchased and installed in September last year and how glad he will be to return here when the Chapel’s centenary will be celebrated in 1997. But, latterly, there were difficulties too. Falling numbers bringing with it some loss of confidence and the spectre of house closures or staff redundancies caused a loss of morale within the Sedbergh community: problems which as a private rather than a public personality Roger found hard to bear. So early retirement beckoned. We rejoice at the manifest and manifold contribution which Roger and Dorothy Baxter made to the life of Sedbergh School over thirteen years. We are grateful for their commitment and their conscientiousness.

We share their pride in their partnership and we applaud their achievements. And if there is but one memory, which I suspect they will always treasure, it will surely be that day in May 1991 when Roger and Dorothy played host to the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh. For half a day they toured the school; royal heralds and fanfares; orchestra and band; town and gown and multicoloured prep school blazers, Sports Hall opened, Coat of Arms presented: nags unfurled and boys and bunting everywhere; lunch with the boys in Sedgwick House and departure with ~Winder~ bellowing, it seemed, from a thousand throats As one observer put it: The ultimate in Grand Opera. Not in Verona but in Sedbergh in a humble place founded by her royal ancestor 470 years ago. To Roger and Dorothy Baxter that surely must have been their finest hour.

Click here to read the original valete from Sir Giles Shaw and a further valete written by Dr Christopher Tinker, Director of Music from 1983-1996, also published in the 1995 Sedberghian.