John Frederick James Douglas (5 Dec 1929 - 17 Sep 2017)

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Funeral Service

Location
Holy Spirit Church Corner of Victoria Road and Melton Road West Bridgford, Notts NG2 7NT
Date
6th Oct 2017
Time
12.30pm
Funeral Director
A.W. Lymn West Bridgford

JOHN FREDERICK JAMES DOUGLAS 1929-2017

John Douglas was born on 5 December 1929 in Dulwich, South London. He had an older sister, Evelyn (or ‘Babs’ as she was known in the family), and a younger brother, Robert (Bob). John was very fond of both his siblings. Evelyn died in 1984 (aged 57) from an asthma attack. With his sister, as a 7 year old, John watched from his home the fire which destroyed the Crystal Palace at Sydenham in 1936.

From 1936 – 1948, he was a pupil at St Joseph’s College, Upper Norwood, which was a De La Salle school (meaning that it was run by a religious order). He was there for 12 years, apart from a year’s sojourn in the country at the height of the blitz (1940-1). Between 1948 and 1951, John studied geography at the University of Nottingham. On leaving he followed other members of his family before him, into the army. From 1951 – 1953 he served in the Royal Artillery, obtaining a commission (as a 2nd lieutenant).

In 1954, John entered the teaching profession. His first post was as a mathematics teacher at a small prep school in Henley-in-Arden. The headmaster of this school was devastated when, after a short time, this brilliant young teacher left, and took up a post in the Becket School, Nottingham (then, a direct grant grammar school in the care of the Augustinians of the Assumption). John was to remain in this school from January 1955 until his retirement in July 1998, over 43 years later.

Former scholars have been keen to share their memories of John as a teacher at the Becket.
Geoffrey Bond (OBE) was a pupil at the Becket School from 1951 to 1958. He writes:

'For much of that time I had the privilege of being taught Geography by John Douglas, as well as being under his supervision as the Athletics Master. John himself was an accomplished runner and ran for the University of Nottingham when he was a student. In a school full of black-robed priests, John, cut a figure of some awe, often wearing a smart double-breasted business suit worthy of Savile Row, white shirt and his Regimental tie with handkerchief in the top pocket. On one occasion we all put our handkerchiefs in our top pockets awaiting the arrival of John for a Geography class, to our sadness that day – he did not have his handkerchief in his pocket. He told me many years later that he had spied through the door what we had done and removed his handkerchief.

John was a great teacher and made his subject fascinating and took as much trouble with the boys who did not take readily to Geography as those who did. I always admired him for that. If he was not in his suit he was in a tracksuit and did much to promote athletics and gymnastics at the school, with boys going off to compete in county championships in their respective sports. To give you some idea of his athleticism, I vividly remember on one occasion, one of the senior school quarter-milers training with John running comfortably beside him, coaching him as they both ran together, it seemed effortless to John.

As we know, after the Becket School he went on to have a distinguished career as a travel writer and photographer, particularly in a country with which I have had strong connections, Norway, and his book ‘Norway’s Arctic Highway’ published in 2003, was a great success, he recounted his journey to the North Cape. I think he wrote something like 16 books, travelled extensively in over 60 countries in 4 continents and of course became a Director of Geo Group & Associates, working mostly in Africa.

Like everybody, I was devastated when John was struck down and became bedridden, a cruel fate for such an energetic, athletic and widely travelled man. I went to see John from time to time and it was extremely sad to see this great man so incapacitated, still radiating in conversation the energy he created for us in previous years.

I had the honour of entertaining him to lunch with the Judges in the Old Bailey London when I was Sheriff of the City of London in 2004 and from time to time in my home in Southwell. Both my wife, Dianora, and myself will miss his company, it was a great privilege to have known him and we shall retain very happy memories of our times with him.'

Paul Bradbury, who was at the Becket school during the '50s/'60s, also remembers John in his role as director of the school athletics team. Paul writes:

'I will always have great memories of him and the influence he had on me. I can't imagine anyone who attended the Becket during the 60's who did not respect John. He was a great teacher and a gentleman in everything he did.'

Another former scholar, Frank Iwanowski, was at the Becket from 1956-1964. While at school, he achieved national recognition as a hurdler, and was coached by John. He was also a sprinter and relay runner, and a member of the school football team. Now retired, he has taught French, taught English as a second language in different countries, and joined the Australian Airforce recruiting section, where he became a Squadron Leader.

Frank writes: 'JD - as all students, especially athletes, very affectionately called him - was one of those few people who you look back on with gratitude as having had a significant impact on your outlook on life, through his example, dedication and enthusiasm, his care for all students over many years, in fact I venture to say virtually his whole working life.

John's attitude reflected more than 'just' a job - his was a total commitment in contributing to the incredibly important formative teenage years of students. He was so much more than a teacher - he was a psychologist, psychiatrist and personnel manager who understood perfectly the requirements of students, ignoring his own aspirations, which in fact were simply to lay the basis for a fulfilling professional and personal life once we left The Becket. We actually understood that, to the point where JD never needed to demand attention, because of the respect in which he was held. Many, if not most of my teachers would have been horrified that I should become a teacher - actually it was John's example that I tried to follow, for a number of years anyway.

John embodied the atmosphere of a large all-encompassing family which The Becket was noted for during my time at the School. His ability to encourage, coach, cajole and ultimately praise the students, both academically and physically, exemplified all that should exist in education, at that level, in all teachers and schools. I recall with particular pride the fact that the school took on the rest of the county (Notts) at track and field and were victorious - this was down to John, and in some ways we did it for him, as just reward for his efforts although he would never have expected or accepted that.

Perhaps fortunately, I was able to visit him only once after he became inactive - that means I remember with gratitude the dynamic person who I think I knew well, but who knew me better! Thank you JD - you can justifiably, now comfortably - REST IN PEACE.'

Rod (GRC) White was a contemporary of Frank at the Becket, during the same golden period of the school’s astonishing success in athletics (and, incidentally, rowing). Like Frank, Rod was part of the athletics team for most of this time as a sprinter and a relay runner. He was also in the cricket and football teams.

He wrote: 'Mr Douglas set a standard from the first time I saw him (at The Becket in the late 1950s). He was - and always was - immaculately dressed. This was the outward appearance of a man who, in my experience of him as a pupil at The Becket, was dedicated and meticulous in all that he did. This characteristic was never more obvious than in his approach to the Becket Athletics Team, which, on occasion, took on the best both in the county and, as individuals, in the country. A seemingly simple example of this was that, by 8.30am on the morning after each of our athletics meetings with other schools or clubs, from which we would often arrive back at school after 7.00pm, there would be a list (typed by JD) publishing the full details of the individual results of every event from the evening before, including position and times/distances/heights etc, plus annotation of a school record, county or national standard where appropriate. We all benefited from this dedication and I shall remember him always as a man who was respected by both pupils and teachers alike.'

David McGawley, who was headteacher of the Becket School from - to – worked closely with John in his role as deputy head/head of upper school. David describes John as 'a multi-talented man whose faith and experience of our world enriched his teaching and informed the guidance which he so freely gave to generations of students regarding their educational and career options.

He was a loyal colleague whose wit enlivened many a meeting, but who would not hesitate to give uncomfortable advice if he thought it important to do so. He had an exceptionally sharp, critical intelligence but at the same time a tolerant, good-humoured appreciation of human character and idiosyncrasy. His was a generous and humane spirit.

Any attempt to list John Douglas' accomplishments runs the risk of serious omission: athlete, traveller and much published writer, photographer, aviator, teacher. the last mentioned was by no means the least important to John or the many who benefited from his influence. Requiescat in pace.'

Bryn Thomas donated £50 in memory of John
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Offline donation: V F & Mrs C J Taylor donated in memory of John
Kelly White wrote

(Tribute read at the funeral)
My association with John began when I joined the Becket 6th Form and he was Deputy head and my geography teacher. As teacher and as a Deputy Head he was held in absolute respect by all the students. You knew what you were getting with John – he knew his subject inside out and was a highly skilled educator. And his door was always open - if you wanted to learn more, he was happy to give you more; if you needed help with your further education choices, he was happy to advise (and it was advice well worth having). Perhaps most importantly, he was never condescending towards students and always treated them as young adults. He often commented to me later on that, as a teacher, it was important to appreciate that your students could easily be more intelligent than you. They maybe didn’t have the knowledge yet, but he always had great respect for their aptitude and potential – and he did what he could to ensure it developed.

For those that didn’t know, John’s interest in the world and geography wasn’t limited to his time as a teacher of the subject. He established a photographic library, Geoslides back in the 1960s, which he ran in the evenings and at weekends, supplying his own photography mainly to publishers of geography text books and travel guide books.

He was also a writer and used the long summer holiday from teaching as an opportunity to travel to many countries around the world (at least 30 to my knowledge – probably more), on various ‘expeditions’ to build up the photo library and carry out research for magazine articles and the occasional book. The books included 3 travel guides – two on North Norway and one on Malawi, which we wrote together. It was these two, very different areas of the world that were his favourites – Scandinavia and sub-Saharan Africa. He visited the former many times, mostly wild-camping his way to and around the Norwegian Arctic Circle. And over the years, he managed to visit pretty much every country in sub-Saharan Africa.

As a traveller, he was always interested in what every country had to offer, culturally and naturally, and took great pleasure in continuing to learn all about everywhere he visited. He may not have immersed himself in local culture - sticking to his meat and 3 veg meals and either staying in luxury hotels with all-mod-cons or being self-sufficient when camping. He wasn’t interested in mid-range, local hotels – just the luxury or the simplicity. But he always respected and showed great interest in the countries he visited. And he wanted to share that knowledge – not only through his articles and books, but also through regular talks and slide shows, which were always engaging and very well received by his audiences. He had great skills as an educator, orator and story-teller which he enjoyed using as often as he could. He very much enjoyed the adventure of travel, often looking to add it in where it wasn’t immediately apparent. We travelled round Scandinavia together a few times, mostly camping in the wild, but when necessary, using small hotels for the odd overnight stay. In those instances, to keep in budget in Norway, a decidedly expensive country, we would smuggle kit bags full of the camping cooking gear and food past the reception and into our room, and set up a camp kitchen for dinner - usually in the bathroom, covering over the smoke alarms where necessary. Ever the archetypal ‘English Gent’, our camping dinners were, of course, always 3 courses – soup, main & dessert, plus wine - a box of wine smuggled from the UK in a hidden compartment in the Land Rover.

In 1999 John and I began working with Malawi, helping them to market their emerging tourist industry. It was the first time they had been marketed internationally and the relationships that John initiated with members of the country’s tourist industry remain to this day. John had a love and passion for the country that made him want to help it develop, using tourism as an engine of economic change, and to tell the world about its natural riches. It was this approach, rather than looking for any immediate benefit for himself, that helped establish the work that continues to this day. Malawi’s tourism is going from strength to strength on the back of what John started nearly 20 years ago – taking on a country in Africa at a time when communication was all by telephone, post and fax, not email!

John was someone who was serious and professional when he needed to be, but also always on the lookout for anything to make him and those around him smile and laugh – often with mischief involved. It really amused John, and brought numerous smiles and comments, when he came up with the idea of putting a ‘health and safety’ notice alongside the bowl of Malawi nuts we used to put out on our stands at travel shows. The notice read: ‘Warning: May contain nuts’!

He always like to present an image of being someone with ‘status’, and with his military bearing, pulled it off most of the time. I remember him visiting me in hospital once when I was in the 6th Form, smartly dressed, upright and well spoken as always. He asked the nurse on the ward which bed I was in and she immediately gave him my medical notes - assuming him to be a consultant! Thankfully, he resisted the temptation to insist on a change in my treatment. Oh, and he was the only one of my teachers who visited me during my weeks in QMC.

But he was also quite happy to tell stories against himself – of moments of embarrassment or mis-understanding - so long as they had a funny punch line that could bring a laugh. One that I heard him tell a few times, and was there to verify (bar a few entertaining embellishments, of course) was when he stood outside a post office in Finland. Having never quite been able to work out what ‘In’ and ‘Out’ were in Finnish, and being someone who almost without fail pulled a door that should be pushed, and vice versa, John decided to hang back from the array of doors in front of him until someone else entered. Thus, he confidently followed close behind a young Finnish lady as she pushed open the middle door, only to find himself moments later squeezed next to her in a phone booth that was actually built in to the Post Office entrance. Fortunately, it also had an onward door through into the main part of the Post Office, so he was able to make a fast exit before charges were pressed.

John was a person who loved to give and share knowledge, and was, without doubt, the most skilled person I’ve ever known at doing so. Not only through his teaching, but also through his other work – telling people about the beauties of Malawi, writing articles about little known places around the world, and showing images of them.

And I’m happy to say that, after 25 years of working with him, when I close my eyes now to think of John, my overwhelming image is one of him with a smile on his face and trying to get those around him to laugh.

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Offline donation: Retiring Collection donated in memory of John
Ann Wilson posted a picture

All together now. Christmas 2015

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Anne Howe wrote

Growing up as the oldest niece of Uncle John was an interesting experience. Although, because what you grow up with is "normal", I just assumed that everybody had an uncle who went wild camping in Norway, flew over glaciers taking pictures & led expeditions into the Arctic. After all, that's what uncles do, isn't it?
As a young girl, I was a bit scared of Uncle John. You never quite knew what he was going to do next and I was never 100% sure when he was joking or serious. It wasn't until I got to know him better as an adult that I realised his sense of humour was never far below the surface.
John always had plenty of amusing anecdotes. I'm amazed that despite visiting him for several years after his stroke, he never ran out of stories - and very rarely repeated himself. It was a joy to listen to him. His memory for names and details from the past was impressive and it's telling that his stories nearly always revolved around people. He cared about people and he cared about making a difference in their lives. From the other comments here, it's obvious that he had a positive influence on many people - just as he did on me. John was an inspiring person to know and I'm blessed to have been able to call him my Uncle John.

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Ann Wilson posted a picture

All together - Christmas 2015

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  • This is a photograph of the Becket Upper School, taken from the suspension bridge during the flooding of 2000. Virtually the whole of John's working life as a teacher was spent in this building.

    Posted by John on 5/10/2017 Report abuse
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Rod White wrote

Mr Douglas” set a standard from the first time I saw him (at The Becket in the late 1950s). He was - and always was - immaculately dressed. This was the outward appearance of a man who, in my experience of him as a pupil at The Becket, was dedicated and meticulous in all that he did. This characteristic was never more obvious than in his approach to the Becket Athletics Team, which, on occasion, took on the best both in the county and, as individuals, in the country. A seemingly simple example of this was that, by 8.30am on the morning after each of our athletics meetings with other schools or clubs, from which we would often arrive back at school after 7.00pm, there would be a list (typed by JD) publishing the full details of the individual results of every event from the evening before, including position and times/distances/heights etc, plus annotation of a school record, county or national standard where appropriate. We all benefited from this dedication and I shall remember him always as a man who was respected by both pupils and teachers alike.

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Paul Bradbury wrote

An inspiring teacher, athletics coach, and a true gentleman. Even though our paths had not crossed for many years, I am saddened by his parting. I have many cherished memories of John and the athletics teams of the 1960's.

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Ann Wilson wrote

You will always be my favourite hello and hardest goodbye ❤️

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Ann Wilson posted a picture

Fly free and rest in peace Namaste John

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Ann Wilson lit a candle
Nigel & Sylvia Drake wrote

John, a dear friend, teacher and travelling companion, a gentleman with a brilliant sense of humour, will be sadly missed.

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Nigel & Sylvia Drake is attending the funeral and the reception
Tony Atkinson wrote

Rest in peace JD. You were a great teacher at the Becket and a true gentleman.

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