Sedberghian Master 1967 – 2002

Richard Hugh Thomas, former Physics Master from 1967-2002, sadly passed away on Christmas Eve. He had become unwell and died peacefully at Lancaster Infirmary, having seen the whole family. Richard’s Funeral was held on Friday 4th January at St Andrew’s, Sedbergh.

The following tribute written by John Sykes was published in the 2002 Sedberghian Magazine to mark Richard’s retirement from Sedbergh School.

After thirty-five years, that is, 105 terms, RHT retires. The end of an era. It was in 1967 that Richard was appointed by Mr GMC Thornely and so it was he came to teach Physics and some Biology. In these early days Richard was also a house tutor in Hart under Mr LP Madge and shortly afterwards with Mr CJ Bennett.

Richard then was not quite the Richard we know now. Like all young house tutors, then and now, he liked to go to the Bull after afternoon school at 6p.m. for a glass of beer. Perhaps it was his diverting conversation that led to the formation of the Staff Club in the Knowles Pavilion. He enjoyed cross-country running and was often seen in company with Hart House boys across the fells. On Ten Mile day he took part in the House Tutor Triangle (Lupton to Thrushgill to Hebblethwaite and back to the finish) with Robin Hildrew, Tony Thomas and David Bamford.

Richard has taken part in many interesting and varied activities at Sedbergh: editor of The Sedberghian, running REME, in charge of the Chess Club, supervising sailing, excited by electronics and for many years the calm and unflappable examinations officer. There are many more one could list.

Richard was described on Speech Day by the Headmaster as a renaissance man. I prefer to think of Richard as a Victorian Gentleman. His interests are firmly entrenched: science, music and history. Some of these he has brought together with his involvement in the Sedbergh and District Buildings Preservation Trust, especially with Farfield Mill. He is fascinated by railways- I am sure that if he were to be on Roy Plomley’s Desert Island he would ask, in addition to the Bible, for a copy of Bradshaw’s.

After Hart, Richard moved to 15, Bainbridge Road. Whether that was because he was marrying Dorcas or because it is the only house in Sedbergh with its own railway signal in the garden I am not sure. Next was Marshall House, then in 1982 he was appointed Housemaster of Sedgwick. In his time music flourished in the house and Richard and Dorcas brought a family atmosphere to Sedgwick. After Sedgwick Richard and the family rebuilt their house at Low Birks. In this time they had six wonderful and talented children Tabitha, Beatrice, Chloe, Ralph, Hugh and Tudor, of whom Richard and Dorcas are very proud.
It was at Low Birks in 1986 that Richard started Collegium Musicum. Richard and Dorcas encouraged the Sixth Form to take an interest in musicians, musical instruments and making music, all in the welcoming atmosphere of their delightful home. Col Mus stemmed from Richard’s own interest in music: playing the bassoon and the school organs, taking part in various orchestras and wind groups and singing. He has encouraged so many of us to enjoy music.

Richard’s major role in the Classroom has been that of a teacher of Physics. He has been greatly appreciated, especially by his Sixth Form classes for his encyclopedic knowledge of the subject and his innate enthusiasm for it. This is shown best in his philosophy of explaining ideas and concepts through the medium of practical work. His love for Physics extends beyond the school. For many years he had been the secretary of the North East and North West Science Group and has recently become a member of the Royal institute of Physics.

With Richard’s departure from Common Room, we shall all miss his interesting and stimulating conversation (I now know why we have two tides each day, what Schrodinger’s cat was, about the life of Ada Lovelace, and who Baskerville was). We shall miss his impish grin when he is being mischievous and that gentle questioning of authority and the raised eyebrow, especially when he doesn’t quite agree with what one is doing. In particular, we shall miss a man of integrity, someone who has an awareness of doing things properly – with regard for history and tradition, and insisting that people are treated in a proper and respectful manner.

During the 16-year interval since the above piece was written Richard continued to contribute his time to many local initiatives. The excellent hosting at Birks of Collegium Musicum continued long after his retirement with guests enjoying both the impressive refreshments and the plethora of clocks that all chimed slightly out of sync with one-another. He maintained the Synchronic clocks in Farfield Mill and the Tourist Information Centre, and installed the system in the People’s Hall. He played in the Sedbergh Town Orchestra as well as various ensembles when a bassoon was needed. He was instrumental in recording the Talking Lookaround which brought the local news to many who would not have otherwise had access to it. He will be greatly missed.