Arthur F. Powell, OBE

Memorial Celebration, 14th March 2009

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Mr Frank Murphy
Mr Frank Murphy

Mr Frank Murphy

Ladies and gentlemen,
I know that I should compliment you on the way that you have received us all today: the silence has been spectacular – almost solemn.

However, after 36 years working in this place, I feel entitled to a decent round of applause!

And I take this opportunity, in view of some of the rumours that are in circulation, to point out that I intend working here for the next thirty six years!

Last night, in one of my bouts of insomnia, I concluded that I was a most inappropriate choice to stand before you, before this most august gathering, today, on this momentous occasion.
Yet, I could not come to terms with why I felt that way – just what was wrong?
And then Tito – whom I have just inherited as my best friend made it perfectly clear for me: my English is not up to Runnymede standard! And I must also apologise to you for my Italian accent!

However, for many years, I worked side-by-side, hand-in-hand with Arthur Powell as he strove to realise his dream of an oasis of tolerance, justice, civility, love and learning.
In all this time, we, Arthur and I, never once exchanged angry words, we never fell out and we resolved a hundred thousand million differences of opinion very gently. The credit for this is entirely his! Arthur invited me into an alliance that was more than just a professional contract: a learned and veteran historian he found sufficient intellectual space to accommodate a raw, novice physicist; socially, he converted me into a co-conspirator in his irreverence for form and pomp and personally, he welded an affective bond that lasted to the very end.
So, perhaps, I am a most appropriate person to stand here today!

In the spring of 1973 I applied for the job as Head of Physics in Runnymede College. I was then working in Africa, dark Africa, darkest Africa... and logically it was quite impossible for me to come to an interview. So my wife offered to come in my place. When she returned, I was curious –even anxious– to hear her report of the meeting. Well, she said, it was like this: at the entrance, we met a man who was painting the gate – Arthur introduced him as the Head of the Art department; inside, standing on a short ladder, we met another man who was painting the ceiling – Arthur introduced him as the Head Cook; later on, on a guided tour of the building, we met a man painting the laboratory door and I pre-empted: Head of Biology I presume. This big red-bearded, long-haired man flashed an immense, red, smile and said: “how did you know?”
And the school itself – what was the school like? Well, there seemed to be a lot of pupils in rather small rooms and a lot of girls in rather short skirts.
I guess some things don't ever change.
But didn't he ask you any questions about me? Yes, he asked if you knew any physics. So what did you answer? That I imagine so, that you claim to have a degree but, that whenever you try to explain some physics to me, I don't have a clue what you are talking about!
I know that you will all be happy to hear that I was offered the job – there were no other applicants!

So, in September of that year, I took up my position. For me, it was a matter of love at first sight – I was captivated, enthralled and enchanted! I had been brought up in Ireland and the lived in Africa, lovely places with lovely people and I have an infinity of happy memories but they were repressive. Arthur was like a breath of fresh air. Arthur loved the pupils and put them first, before the parents, before the teachers and before himself! He also had great expectations of them. There was little by way of rules and regulation, of discipline and obedience, of crime and punishment; instead there was respect for the institution, respect for each other, respect for one's self.
Arthur's whole vision was pivoted on respect.
And this is what Runnymede College was all about.
And this is the way it had to be – respect for all races, religions and political persuasions. Respect was the hallmark of Arthur Powell.
And this is the legacy that Arthur has left to us all, in particular, to his son, the current Headmaster, Frank Powell.

And I am going to repeat that –because that is what teachers do– they repeat things. Teachers can be very boring and I am the most boring of all.
Runnymede is about respect for: the black, the brown, the white, the red and the yellow – the Jew, the Hindu, the Buddhist, the Muslim, the Christian and the nondescript, the male, the female and everything in-between, the smart and the stupid, the handsome and the ugly, the rich, the poor, the healthy and the infirm, the fat and the thin; Real Madrid, Atletico de Madrid y El Rayo Vallecano.
And I know that there are currents abroad nowadays that suggest that maybe things do not have to be like this, that times have changed, that Arthur's ideals are out-dated; and I know that there are under-currents in the school that suggest that we ourselves have changed, that we are not up to the job, that maybe, we too have capitulated.
But this cannot be.
We must not allow any cross wind to deflect us from our course, or any head wind to delay our progress.
We must maintain our direction and our pace – anything else, anything less would be to betray the memory of Arthur Francis Powell.

Let me remind you:
We are here today for Arthur's memorial ceremony.
We are not here to mourn and grieve his loss –we did that on January 26th, from early in the morning till late at night in what was one of the longest days of my life. We are here today to celebrate his life. We are here to tell Arthur that we are delighted that our paths crossed, we rejoice in having known him, we were exhilarated to have worked and labored alongside him, that we shall cherish and preserve his memory.

Mrs Powell, Doña Julia, often told me “Frank (that's me), yo he parido cuatro veces, yo tengo cuatro hijos”. Half joking but wholly in earnest, Julia told me that she had been through the pangs of labour on four occasions! People who know the Powells will be thinking: four? They are, of course, Frank, the current Headmaster and now chairman of NABSS, Charles, the renowed Oxonian, writer and academic and Paloma who was the apple of her daddy's eye ...and the fourth? Runnymede College! And she was, of course, correct: if Arthur planted the seed, it was Julia who breathed life into their creation. Make no mistake about it: the school was theirs, his and hers.

For Julia, here now, and for Arthur, who is also here today, we promise to do our utmost to keep alive the spirit with which they engendered this College. It is now more than an obligation or a duty – it is our noble calling to maintain the flame, to fan the flame, to feed the flame that is Runnymede.

Thank you for listening to me.

by William Blake and Hubert Parry
Sung by Rory Thomson & alii

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