David Brook Sutcliffe 1934-2019 (W 48-53)

We are sad to share the news that David Brook Sutcliffe (W 48-53) died on 11th November 2019, aged 84, after a short illness. Please see below an obituary from The Times.

David Sutcliffe – Liberal Founder of three United World Colleges, one in Wales, one in Italy and one in war-torn Bosnia

In the middle of Mostar, on the boundary between the Serb and the Bosniak districts, was the ruin of a school. Before the Bosnian war, the Mostar Gymnasium had been one of the finest schools in the country. Now the war was over, its reconstruction, like that of the city’s old bridge, had become a symbol of the tentative reconciliation between the county’s feuding tribes.

David Sutcliffe saw an opportunity in this ruin. He had been the headmaster of two United World Colleges (UWC), institutions that instilled a liberal, internationalist and peaceful ethos in their students, and encouraged them to engage in community service. Now he and his colleagues were looking for the site of a third.

UWC Mostar opened in the restored gymnasium in 2006. It was at that time the only school in the country where Bosniaks, Serbs and Croats shared a classroom. Sutcliffe would often select students on the basis not purely of their ability, but also of their lucklessness in life. The school’s financial situation was precarious – every year the staff convened to discuss whether they should accept another group of students.

Managing the logistics of the school in this tense and disordered environment required a dedicated network of supporters. Sutcliffe steadily built up this network to include Kofi Annan, the one-time secretary general of the United Nations. “It is very difficult to succeed here,” Sutcliffe liked to recall a Bosnian politician telling him, “but if you do it is a great victory.”

David Sutcliffe was born in 1934 in London, to Dr Richard and Eileen Sutcliffe. The family had ties to Guernsey, the German occupation of which gave him an early impression of the disruption that war brings. Aged 12, he would cycle around the island with an air rifle strapped to his back; that is, if he was not canoeing on the open sea or climbing the cliffs to reach birds’ nests.

Sutcliffe was educated at Sedbergh, a boarding school in Cumbria, and then St John’s College, Cambridge, where he read French and German. After graduating, he taught for four years at Salem, a school in Germany set up by the educator Kurt Hahn. Hahn’s vision of a holistic curriculum would shape Sutcliffe’s teaching career. At Salem he met his wife, Elizabeth, a fellow teacher there. They married in 1961 and had three children: Michael, who became an executive in the oil and gas industry; Veronica, a GP; and Edward, who worked in the Metropolitan Police and died of a brain tumour in 1993.

Sutcliffe then spent a year at Gordonstoun, the school in Scotland also set up by Hahn and best known for educating Prince Philip and Prince Charles, before assisting Hahn in the founding of Atlantic College in the Vale of Glamorgan, the first of the UWCs. The school is housed in a 12th-century castle. He taught German there and led its first canoe lifeguard unit. The school also an an inshore lifeboat station, which he later managed. Under his direction the students set about trying to improve the rubber boats they used, testing prototypes to destruction. In this way, they designed the first rigid inflatable buoyancy craft, or “Rib”.

The headmaster, Desmond Hoare, sold the patent for the Rib to the Royal National Lifeboat Institution for £1, a decision that struck in Sutcliffe’s craw: “We lost an opportunity of funding the college. It would not have occured to Desmond to get a commercial advantage out of it.”

Becoming headmaster of the school in 1969, Sutcliffe set up a summer school for inner-city students and an arts centre for the local community, and vigorously supported the introduction of the International Baccalaureate (IB). In 1976 he convinced the heads of other schools that taught the IB to donate money to prevent the collapse of the qualification. Sutcliffe could be a severe figure of authority when he needed to be. If he was displeased with a member of staff, he would leave a note in their pigeonhole, the deeper his ire, the smaller the piece of paper. Yet he was also magnanimous. Students he had hardly spoken to were often surprised by how much he knew about them. He abided by Hahn’s maxim that, between teachers and students, “respect is not enough, affection is not necessary, what is wanted is trust.”

In 1982 he left his post at Atlantic College to set up UWC Adriatic, a school in Duino, northern Italy, near Trieste. Like the school he would later set up in Mostar, UWC Adriatic was, in its early days, a rickety enterprise – for the first year the students lived and took their lessons in a nearby hotel because the school building was not ready. At a UWC conference in Prague in 2000 Sutcliffe said that “it must become our joint task to take international education not to where it can be afforded, but to where it is urgently needed.”

As his venture in Bosnia shows, Sutcliffe was a man with an appetite for adversity. An avid sailor, in 1976 he had taken a sabbatical to compete in the Observer Single Handed Trans-Atlantic race, in a boat smaller than those of most of the challengers. Ferocious weather beset the race – two people died and 47 of the 125 yachts had to retire or be rescued. Yet among all the violent squalls, Sutcliffe found the time to read War and Peace as well as the entire works of Shakespeare.

David Sutcliffe, teacher, was born on November 26, 1934. He died of prostate cancer on November 11, 2019, aged 84.