Shebbear has produced many good men. Among the very best of them was David Haley. That the old, remote school exists and thrives today is in no small part due to his commitment to help save it when closure threatened in the early 1990s.
While his life centred around his wife, Candy, and their four fine sons, an abiding affection for the college and the Old Shebbearians’ Association, of which he was Secretary for 14 years from 1993, came close behind. At Shebbear from 1952-56, he entered London University where he obtained a BSc degree in Estate Management. Then began a long and successful career in property and property management.
He died in April 2012 after enduring serious illness and was buried on the day that would have been his 74th birthday.
His deep involvement with the OSA came when Jackson Page appointed him editor of the old boys’ section of the Shebbearian magazine. He once described the pleasure of attending his first reunion dinner – and meeting for the first time many of those to whom he had written for news.
He was born at his aunt’s nursing home in Witney, Oxfordshire, where his father was the manager of a woollen factory. His mother was the youngest of twelve children who had been brought up in the area, farming land that was owned by the Duke of Marlborough.
They were a remarkable family. One of his aunts climbed the Matterhorn; another was matron in charge of the military hospital during the siege and relentless bombing of Malta during World War Two. She was awarded the highest medal possible for nursing staff. Many of his uncles continued to farm but the eldest, Frederick, became a Methodist minister. When David passed the 11-plus to Witney Grammar School, it soon became apparent that he was not happy there, so the uncle suggested a Methodist boarding school – Shebbear.
He soon settled in, eventually becoming a sub-prefect and prefect. He played rugby and cricket, mostly for the second teams but occasionally for the firsts. His opening shot for his 1st X1 debut was a mighty six which hit the Beckly pavilion roof.
He left Shebbear with A-level s in physics, pure mathematics and applied mathematics – and a love of singing and amateur dramatics.
Sunday worship, whether at his local Methodist or Anglican churches, depended very much on where he thought there might be the best singing.
It was while taking part in more than thirty musicals with a number of companies in London and Oxfordshire that he met Candy.
In latter years his home was Cold Norton Farm, near Cobham, Surrey, overlooking a sweep of lovely countryside to the east. Some 30 acres of land allowed him to raise and sell rare breeds of sheep.
The tools of his trade were the telephone, his trusty typewriter and a sharp and retentive mind. But he eschewed new technology, believing communication by email not to be secure.
He instilled in his family his personal motto: “Never put anything off until tomorrow that can be done today.”
Thus the minutes of the OSA Committee were written in longhand as the meeting progressed, typed neatly when he got home and sent in the post the following day.
Indefatigable in all that he did, he would make the long journey to and from Shebbear in an afternoon and evening on countless occasions , picking up and dropping off fellow Old Shebbearians en route, even if it meant going out of his way.
The visits were for career advice evenings, Speech Days or Governors’ meetings. It was David who strongly advocated during the debt crisis that some of the school’s property interests be sold to clear a large debt. Now Shebbear is firmly in profit.
His office at his pretty farmhouse was a large table in the dining room. Rarely missing was a dog – or five – at his feet. Candy, a self-employed solicitor, worked in an adjoining room. There was much affectionate banter between them.
In his property management portfolio the jewel in the crown was Montrose Court in Princess Gate, South Kensington. One of the caretakers was a member of the nearby Polish Club, so, for many years, OSA committee meetings and even one reunion were held there.
A service of thanksgiving for his life was held at All Saints Church, Ockham, Surrey, on April 20. John Ruckes, a contemporary, said at the service:
“Several Old Shebbearians are here today who will testify that life at Shebbear in the late forties and early fifties was really tough but David and I learned to cope. It provided a perfect foundation for our lives ahead. He was a very special man to whom Old Shebbearians owe a huge debt of gratitude.”
Ken Brown, a business associate, recalled the day when David secured the Montrose Court contract.“He was polite, fresh faced and cheerful and totally in command of his brief.”
He and his colleagues had expected the negotiations to be over well before lunch. Instead they lasted for 14 bruising hours. “He knew the property backwards and contested every amendment we wanted. We were run ragged that day.”