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.”
Cyril Barfoot, senior maths and physics master at Shebbear from 1943-57, has died at the age of 93.
He came to Shebbear as one of J.B.Morris’s first recruits with a 1st Class mathematics degree from Birmingham University. Many Shebbearians had reason to be grateful for “his beautifully lucid teaching”.
He was also a first rate model engineer, photographer, stage electrician and scoutmaster of Troop 3.
He left Shebbear for a similar post at Edgehill when his children, two girls and a boy, began to get older and it was necessary to move to Bideford for their education.
While at Edgehill, he was appointed to the permanent panels of examiners for Oxford University O-levels and London University A-levels.
It kept him “more than fully occupied” during the months of June, July and December.
Only a few years ago he was a guest of honour at the OSA President’s reception, following Speech Day at Shebbear.
A Quaker funeral service took place in Bideford on February 14, 2008.
John Stanbury came to Shebbear from Launceston as a pupil in 1956 and left at the end of the winter term in 1963 having gained A-levels in English, History and Geography. He was an editor of the magazine, librarian, prefect and shared the duties of organist at Lake Chapel with John Trevitt. Later, he was ordained as a Minister in the Methodist Church.
In the autumn of 2006, he was diagnosed with cancer. He died aged 62 on January 20, 2008, at the Sir Michael Sobell House Hospice in Oxford. The funeral took place at All Saints Methodist Church, Abingdon, where he had been the much loved Minister, on January 30.
In 2005 he attended the “40 years on” reunion at Shebbear with his wife Rosemary. She said it had been “an unforgettable experience”. He was the devoted father of Susan and Christopher.
A day boy at Shebbear in the 1930s, John Mill would eventually hold a senior position with the Independent Television Authority. Not only was his office in Knightsbridge, London, but his flat overlooked Harrods.
When he left Shebbear at 15 in 1939 where under Leslie Johnson he enjoyed English, Maths, Music and Art and excelled at running, he worked firstly as a clerk with a meat company in Bude. In 1943 he was called up for military service and learned how to fly gliders after being conscripted into the 6th Airborne Division. On his way to Normandy by ship to take part in the D-Day landings he was injured by shrapnel. Once ashore, he was taken to a farmhouse to be treated. While there the farmer’s wife gave birth to a boy who was immediately named John.
After the war he entered Morley College, London, to study personnel Management. He joined the ITA as a personnel manager before being promoted to executive administrator.
In the mid-1950s he returned home to help on the family’s 400-acre farm at Walter’s moor, Shebbear. Five years later he decided to become a probation officer and contacted the ITA for a reference. Instead, they invited him back to work for them again and he stayed until taking early retirement to look after his parents. After their deaths he lived in Cyprus for several years before settling in Westward Ho!
John, a gifted painter in both oils and water colours, died in January 2008, aged 83.
(We are grateful to Reflecting Shebbear, the village magazine, for the biographical details in the this obituary)
Brian Letheren, a member of an old established Hatherleigh family with strong Shebbear connections, died shortly before Christmas 2007. He was 67.
He was at Shebbear from 1951-56, leaving with eight O-levels to join his father in the family firm of agricultural merchants. He later took over the business and eventually saw it combine with Oke’s of Holsworthy and Heard’s of Morwenstow, all also run by old boys – with many Old Shebbearians among their customers.
At Shebbear, Brian won his 1st XV Rugby Colours, played for the Second X1 cricket team and was a promising athlete. The Shebbearian of Summer 1955, records that he won the 880 and 440 yards, setting new Middle records for both. He also won the shot and was second in the discus.
The younger brother of Dennis, Edwin Guy died in December, 2007, at the age of 82. He was at Shebbear from 1939-42 and in Ruddle House.
Like his brother, he was an excellent sportsman playing for both the 1st XV and 1st X1. He was also very musical, a good singer and a member of the choir. He gained his Oxford School Certificate.
Edwin was a popular figure with both boys and staff. He had an engaging sense of humour and excelled in end of term plays. After Shebbear, he returned to his home village of Exbourne where he lived for the rest of his life. He joined the family business of Master Bakers and Confectioners and became a Director of the company, along with Dennis.
He kept up his love of sport playing cricket and football for Exbourne and Okehampton for many years. He is survived by his widow and sons, Andrew and Philip, both Old Shebbearians, and their children.
An obituary in a newspaper in Victoria, British Columbia, tells of the “incredible spirit” of an old boy who entered Shebbear more than 50 years ago. A friend was quoted as saying: “Any time you spent with him, you came away feeling a better person.”
Born in Tintagel and brought up in Launceston, Roger Colwill was to spend five years at Shebbear from 1954-59. On leaving he trained as a chartered surveyor with a large surveying company in Plymouth.
He emigrated to Canada in 1968 where he had a successful and lucrative career in commercial real estate in Vancouver, becoming Associate Vice-President of Royal LePage. He retired at the age of 47 and devoted the rest of his life to environmental issues.
He suffered a severe stroke 10 years ago and spent more than three months in hospital. He was left with impairment to the left side of his body and had to learn to walk again. He fought back, accompanying his former tennis partner on jogs on an electric bike. Naturally left-handed and a keen artist in watercolours, he soon learnt to paint with his right hand. The results were “good”.
From the moment of retirement, he “devoured” environmental literature. His “green activism” began with taking part in a project to remove an evasive species of the broom plant that was threatening wild flowers at a local beauty spot.
He also introduced “Green drinks”, informal monthly gatherings at a Victoria pub for those concerned with the environment.
Roger died, aged 65, in September 2007 while having a cup of tea with his wife Barbara. He also leaves a son Mike, 27, and a daughter Sarah, 25.
An Exeter boy, David “Rat” Roberts followed in his grandfather’s footsteps and entered Shebbear in 1941. He was to stay until the late ’40s. He was a member of the 1st XV, became Assistant Scout Master of Troop 2 and was a prefect. Later he qualified as an engineer, specialising in water projects and land drainage. After marriage to Jean, they went to Nigeria for a number of years where he worked for the Government before the country became independent.
When Milton Keynes was still only in the planning stages, David was deputy engineer for land drainage and spoke of the “limitless funds” made available.
He and Jean returned to Exeter when his parents needed their help. In recent years he had been involved in work on the restoration of the Tiverton Canal.
He died on May 18, 2007. He and Jean had no children.
Among Old Shebbearians who attended his funeral at Exeter Crematorium were David Marshall, Ted Lott and Michael Hohl.
Arthur Buse, highly respected as a North Devon businessman and for his service to the community, died on March 12, 2007, at the age of 79. Born in the village he attended Shebbear College from 1938-44 under Leslie Johnson and later Jack Morris.
For most of his life he worked for Thomas Oke & Son, agricultural and builders’ merchants of Holsworthy and its successor, serving firstly as assistant to John Oke, the owner and managing director, and later as managing director, when the company was bought by BOCM.
A Shebbear resident for many years before moving to Bude, Arthur was a long-serving member of the parish council and was later elected chairman.
As a young man he was very involved in the project to build a new village hall.
He was founding member of Holsworthy Rotary Club and later its Treasurer. He was also a member and Treasurer of Mid-Torridge Branch of the Royal British Legion.
He is survived by his wife Mary and son Nigel.