On Tuesday 22nd March, I was contacted by various former colleagues asking for prayers for Tony Ward, Head of Geography at my former school, St John Payne. The day before, he had been leading a Y12 field trip in Wales before suffering a stroke. The students acted immediately and Tony was taken to a nearby hospital. Over the following days, there were various updates... one minute good news, the next a turn for the worst. I think we all believed that if anyone would pull through it would be Tony. Sadly on April 5th 2016, after various complications, Tony passed away.
As well as a colleague, it was a pleasure to call Tony a friend. I joined St John Payne, as a fresh faced 22 year old in the summer of 2006. The RE department were situated in Middle School, alongside the Geography department. As such, this meant not only invites to Fionnuala Long's room for break, but also the school ski trip and meals to Prezzo. The expertise and experience shared over a cup of tea was invaluable to my professional development and at times the best CPD you could get!
The thing that will always remain with me about Tony, was his absolute love of his teaching subject. For him, it was one of the most important things about the job. Indeed, his room (more like his own annex!) was one of the best resourced and stocked teaching spaces you could ever dream of. Most of this was down to Tony's hard work, relentless recording of relevant TV programs and collection of maps, posters and diagrams. It must have been an inspiring place for students to work; I'm still jealous now!
The way the students admired him, loved him and fought loyally for him clearly demonstrated what an amazing teacher he was. If you spoke to former students, they would frequently ask, "How's Wardy?". Hearing some of their stories about the things Tony did for them while in his class or tutor group show exactly the kind of teacher, and man, he was.
Perhaps foolishly, he never said no to a student wanting to do his subject at A-Level, even if it meant taking a class of 40. He would work long into the night ensuring their work was marked, this after being the last one to leave the school building each night. Up and down the country, and probably beyond, there is an army of Geography teachers inspired by Tony. Each one of them will carry on his legacy.
He would sometimes ask me what my career ambitions were. At that stage, I didn't really know where I wanted to end up (not sure I do now!). He was always sure to remind me that there was nothing wrong with staying in the classroom for your whole career; "THAT is success", he would tell me. He would laugh as he told stories of being asked to apply for SLT jobs and how he always politely but firmly always said "no way!".
Tony warned me to watch out for the "bullsh*t" and "sh*te" that would keep coming at me for my whole career, he told me to ignore it and only do what was best for the students. I think only now I am realising what sense he spoke, and I am grateful that it has stuck with me. In a world of education that only gets crazier, he was always that voice of reason. Crucially, it always involved putting students first.
His high expectations for students were something for everyone to aspire to. He was uncompromising, in the best possible way. It was just unacceptable to not try your best at all times. This related to academic work, standards of behaviour and uniform. He would always give of his best, and expected nothing less of those around him.
I am also grateful that Tony took the time, two full days in fact, to teach me to ski. He noticed that I was struggling in ski school with the kids and took me out to give me some one to one. His trips were always amazing, and so many great memories were formed with colleagues who became friends. I got to go skiing five times at SJP, and sadly not since; I doubt I could organise a trip that could measure up to his! Piancavallo will always be a special place.
Prezzo in Chelmsford was our favourite meeting place where Tony would organise meals for all the staff of Middle School past and present. He used to remember everyone, and ensure to invite them on each occasion - even trusting us to pay our £20 deposit on the night! Christmas meals, end of the year meals... and of course his 60th birthday meal.
If I ever come even close to being remembered as fondly as Tony is by students, parents and colleagues, I will have done well. His family describe him as "the special one", and indeed he was. Phrases such as inspiration and legendary can be overused, but somehow don't seem adequate for Tony. He will live on in corridors and classrooms, not only at SJP, but up and down the country. Thank you for everything Tony, you will be sorely missed. I doubt there will be another teacher quite like 'Wardy' along anytime soon...
- Some of Tony's former students have set up a page which will be used by the family to commemorate and remember his life. Reading the comments demonstrates how much Tony meant to his students: https://crowdfunding.justgiving.com/Tonyward
- Further details of events commorating Tony's life are being posted on the school website: www.sjp.essex.sch.uk
Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord,
and let perpetual light shine upon him.
May he rest in peace.
Image courtesy of Paul Williams