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Remembering Former Housemaster Richard ‘Dickie’ Dawe

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Former Sedberghian Housemaster Richard (Dickie) Dawe died peacefully on 4th July 2017, aged 87, in his sleep at home. He was a loving and generous father and grandad. Dedicated and accomplished schoolmaster, housemaster and headmaster at Sedbergh, Christ’s Hospital, Westminster Under School and The Hall. His wife, Jay, was also a teacher at Christ’s Hospital.

To better understand his character and legacy, an extract from Mr R. K. Wilson, of Christ’s Hospital School, Horsham, written when Mr Dawe left his post at Christ’s Hospital, can be read below:

When Dick Dawe came to Christ’s Hospital some fourteen years ago, he came with a ready-made reputation as a rugby coach and player. And although it was not long before his expertise and quiet authority were being used in the coaching of the younger members of the School, it was also not long before the other facets of his character became evident. He is a fine all round sportsman, a skilled golfer and cricketer, an very keen ornithologist and a conscientious and inspiring teacher.

However, it is primarily as Housemaster of Leigh Hunt A that we will be remembered by most members of the Christ’s Hospital community. He took over from Merlin Jones shortly after the split into Senior and Junior Houses, and it fell to him to complete the transformation of Prep A into Leigh Hunt A. He has made an outstanding success of this. His boys have found him patient and understanding, gentle, full of humour and yet firm, and always insisting on the high standards of behaviour and responsibility which he himself exemplified. The result has been a happy and fiercely loyal House an an ever growing band of grateful parents. The measure of this was the enormous response by past and present parents and boys to the leaving gift which was presented to him after the farewell cricket match, an event so fittingly ended by Dick’s winning six during the last over.

Jay, too, has contributed notably to the life of Christ’s Hospital. She has given much support to the Theatre both as an actress and as a Drama teacher. She was one of those behind the development and arrival at the school of the Horsham branch of N.A.D.F.A.S., of which she later became chairman. It was she who inspired and also took part in two of the more spectacular occasions. ‘The Elizabethan Banquet’ in the Dining Hall and ‘The Edwardian Evening’ in the Theatre.

To those who knew him, it came as no surprise to learn of his appointment as Master of the Underschool at Westminster. Here is a job for which both he and Jay are eminently suited and we wish them both every success in it. We shall miss them but hope that the lure of the countryside and the availability of many free weekends will ensure that they are regular visitors.

His first tutors:

It is notoriously difficult to try and recapture a general atmosphere in print, but we are bound to want to risk the attempt: to have seen the mighty Jonah in his last sunset years of Housemastering – “out of the strong came forth sweetness” = and then witness the transition of Leigh Hunt A into the Dickie Dawe era, this was indeed the richness of experience. Old clocks and clanging bells went from the Dayroom, boys fell in for meals outside and not as they had done previously in the Dayroom itself. But the feeling of an overall friendliness, which Jonah’s magnificent control and eye for detail had bequeathed to the House, remained unaltered. Dickie explained frankly his philosophy to the boys that first Friday evening. “You’ll find me with a much worse bark than bite; I’ll shout at you on the rugger pitch but make no reference to any action later.” And he closed with, “If you see a 3 year old boy wandering into the House please guide him back into our house- small boys don’t understand swing-doors.” This was capital ‘spiel’ from a new Huosemaster: charming, family details blended with a fresh, light, highly professional touch which the boys instantly took to. They were never so responsive, never less likely to do something that would earn them a mention in “the book” – Dickie’s new punishment system – as when they knew he wasn’t easily available because, in all probability, he was bathing Lucas (his son).

This “family atmosphere” side to Dickie’s era in Leigh Hunt A cannot be over-stressed. It made the House so much of a unit, a gathering-together and focussing of relaxed yet controlled forces. Dickie the rugby coach has become a legend in his own time: the drilling of the teams, the famous rant from the touchline: but that aspect of him was always the most noticeable, the immediately recognisable side. Much more difficult to analyse were deeper antinomies that went into such a successful housemastership: the charming boyishness accompanied with that certain steelness; the deliverer of a gentle Dayroom talk who could turn it into lacerating fire at a moment’s notice; the man of superb ambition who also knew the melting mood, after say, a performance of the Fauré Requiem; the possessor of a pair of sometimes hard blue eyes, who could then convert them into oceans of sparkle and lustre, accompanied with that wonderful laugh which seemed to make one feel that the whole world was smiling at that moment.

On his tutors’ side life was well-night ideal. Dickie was-is-a superb delegator: we knew exactly what our role in the House was. Nobody who has worked for him would ever think of trying to “outdo” him, or “take over” certain aspects of the House that did not belong to him. The authority and confidence at the top was strong and categorical. That inner strength had a difficult-to-describe style about it, but it was never seen more impressively than when he had to face, early in his Housemaster days, the shattering death of Richard. The quiet control then, the confidence that all in the end would be well: just beyond words. And when we both had to leave the House in later years, on meeting him at any time, that seem feeling of confidence and strength would be there, as it had been in the old days. It was simply him.

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