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News > Annoucements > David Walsh's Eulogy for David Kemp

David Walsh's Eulogy for David Kemp

Eulogy written and delivered by David Walsh at David Kemp's Memorial Service on 20 November 2021
6 Jun 2022
Written by Tara Biddle

We gather here today to honour and remember David Kemp, how he touched our lives as family, friends, colleagues, pupils and what he gave to Tonbridge School and to so many other institutions with which he was associated over his long and fruitful life. Particularly we hold in our thoughts his beloved Marion, their first-born Anthony, Will and Kate, Peter and Miranda, and his grandchildren, Ada and Freddie, Thomas and Emy.

David Kemp was born in December 1928 in Bromley and went to Bickley Hall Prep School, from where he came to Parkside in September 1942. For the next 79 years, Tonbridge was where he made his life, except for a short period at Oxford and in London. In the wartime school, his life was shaped by austerity, with rationing of food and most other necessities of life, which gave him a lifelong dislike of extravagance and profligacy. His was a stellar school career, on the games field, in the classroom and in his appointment as Head of School by Eric Whitworth, the headmaster, who David idolised for the rest of his life. Whitworth gave, in his Skinners Day speech in July 1947, a tribute which could apply to the whole of David’s life: ‘Kemp has adjusted himself and his use of time with perfect judgement to his work, his responsibilities and his recreations’. Tonbridge gave him as a boy not only an emotional attachment but qualities and training which stood him in lasting good stead – tolerance and self-discipline, a perception of the fun of living, and a recognition that power and authority must be exercised with wisdom and restraint.

In 1944 he showed early signs of his phlegmatic temperament and his ability to focus on the important things in life, while batting in a house match for Parkside with his friend John Wrightson. This was the summer of the VI flying bomb, the doodlebug, which posed serious and sudden danger for Tonbridge, dozens going over the school each day and one exploding just behind the Ferox garden. The house match was on the Head, and John Wrightson was caught at cover from a poor stroke. Just at that moment a doodlebug came low over the school and the skies were filled with bursting anti-aircraft shells. All the players ran to take cover under the trees, with bits of shrapnel raining down. Wrightson saw how serious David was looking and thought him about to comment on the danger overhead, but what he heard was ‘Wrightson, you really must stop chasing those balls outside off stump’.

From Tonbridge David went in 1947 to national service in the army for two years, and then to Brasenose College, Oxford with a scholarship to read law. From here he joined a solicitor’s firm for his articles. David later admitted it was an opportunity made possible by the Parkside matron’s father. He would undoubtedly have become a very successful solicitor, but the siren call of the alma mater reached out to him at Lord’s, watching the Tonbridge/Clifton match, when Lawrence Waddy persuaded him to come here to teach in 1956. This was two years incidentally after his great friend, Mike Bushby. Kemp and Bushby, Bushby and Kemp, what resonance that has, what memories it evokes for those colleagues and pupils lucky enough to be here in their time.

The DSK of those first teaching years was not necessarily the wise old sage you mostly remember. There were many girlfriends, much partying, and regular skiing holidays. On the slopes he eschewed any thoughts of a fashionable skiing wardrobe in favour of grey flannel trousers and a tweed jacket (and possibly even a Free Foresters or Yellowhammer tie). He was also the dashing owner of a Daimler Dart, an extremely racy open-topped sports car. However the most eligible bachelor in Tonbridge eventually met his match when driving Marion and a mutual friend down to the friend’s family villa in Portugal. They were married in 1966 and enjoyed 55 years of blissful happiness.

Tonbridge was a much smaller, more intimate school in 1956, just 500 boys and 39 teaching staff. Hierarchies and formality dominated among boys and staff, the young teachers making sure they did not sit in John Knott’s favourite chair in Common Room. David threw himself into the life of the school – house tutor and master i/c hockey, but also in charge of the horse riding club, and the Motor Transport section in the CCF.

Above all he loved the cut and thrust and banter of the classroom. His academic record shows that he was a strong classicist, and his law option was always over-subscribed, but he enjoyed most that pastorally valuable role of Novi form master, treating all boys as individuals, with tolerance, humour and insight. He was also very much the master of the red herring, whether planted by his pupils or more often by himself, and usually involving cricket. There was, for instance, a competition initiated by David to see who could bowl crumpled bits of paper most accurately into a waste bin. He was also very kind to those who struggled, suggesting that they must have what he called ‘strengths in other areas’. One who scored just 3 out of 50 for his Greek into English exam translation, in the last year of David’s career, found this comment written on the bottom of his paper: ‘Richard, this bears no relevance to the text but is an excellent story’.

At the heart of David’s strengths as a schoolmaster was a sure instinct, an innate understanding of the hopes and anxieties of vulnerable adolescents and an unshakeable belief in the maintenance of those standards which had always stood him in good stead. You never heard from him a word of malice, but many of quiet wisdom and of support in the good and the bad times. This was continued as housemaster of Park House from 1969 and then as Second Master when Robert Ogilvie appointed him to that position in 1971. I remember him giving me advice when I became a housemaster in 1986, notes given to me in that inimitable handwriting which we all remember, including headings like ‘loving kindness and paternalism’, ‘parents – when to humour them’, and, most importantly ‘the value of the blind eye’, jumping on serious matters like bullying, but giving boys some freedom to misbehave. I am not sure however that he would get away today with his advice to me about telephoning parents with news to impart of a serious disciplinary offence. ‘Make sure,’ he advised, ‘that you always speak to the father first’.

It would be unthinkable today, in this era of ever larger senior leadership teams, to have a Second Master like David who continued as a boarding housemaster, teacher of a full timetable and sports coach in all three terms. David’s own recollection of his interview with Robert Ogilvie about his appointment as Second Master included being told that the role and responsibilities would not be demanding, and that the Governors would not allow any increase in his salary. He much enjoyed working with Robert, but there was no such thing as a job description in those days or anything on paper about the Second Master’s set areas of responsibility.  Robert’s main concern seemed to be that David should take on problems that he did not want to deal with and see people he did not want to see, which proved to be a not inconsiderable remit, but David was to do this with supreme skill and diplomacy.

His partnership as Second Master with Christopher Everett from 1975 to 1989 represented the peak years of his career, to be crowned with his appointment as Acting Headmaster for two terms between Christopher’s departure and Martin Hammond’s arrival. Christopher found himself in constant dialogue with David on every aspect of school life and his own ideas were shaped by David’s deep knowledge of the school, its aims and values. David’s long membership of the Skinners Company, and the respect in which he was held by powerful senior governors, also helped when big decisions had to be taken such as the sale of the Fifty or the building of the new School House. David was a supreme tactician behind the scenes, his ear close to the ground within the school and outside. In cricketing terms he was the master of the quiet nudge into the legside to keep the scoreboard moving or sometimes the solid forward defensive to resist an unwanted proposal.

In the educational world David had this ability always to see the wider picture. He had a capacity for making multiple lasting friendships with colleagues in other schools who kept him well informed about ideas he should be considering at Tonbridge. Whenever one met a senior figure from another school at an away cricket match or somewhere, the question would always be, ‘how is old Kempy?’. His was the schoolmastering era of the carefully crafted letters rather than email or text, common sense rather than regulation. The form-filling, monitoring, and risk assessment of the current era would have been anathema to him for he always committed himself naturally to delivering, in the jargon of today, positive learning outcomes and the rolling out of initiatives fit for purpose. The era of multiple school policies only accelerated after David retired, but he was a walking, talking book of policies in himself, and always shaped to the individual situation. His legal training meant that every decision was carefully weighed, so he was calm, took his time and always came up with a kindly and humane solution. It is an irony that he retired one year after the Children Act became law in 1989, putting the welfare of the child as the paramount concern for schools. For David the welfare of the child had always been paramount and no statute was needed to keep him to that mark.

His time at Tonbridge achieved its consummate moment for the two terms in which he was headmaster in 1990, a perfect, brief episode when he could emulate his hero, Eric Whitworth. It showed that he should have been a headmaster for many years, if he could have torn himself away from Tonbridge – decisive, approachable, conciliatory and it all seemed so natural. We were confident in his judgement and comfortable in his and Marion’s generous hospitality. He had that instinctive understanding of teachers and boys, non-teaching staff and governors, the nuts and bolts of how Tonbridge worked. When he preached in Chapel, he revealed the quiet and understated certainty of his faith, which brought him to this chapel on such a regular basis. At the end of his final term, he received a vast outpouring of gratitude and emotion.

After David retired, he found plenty to do in cricket, in school governance, in local service and in the activities of the Skinners Company. He became President of the Tonbridge Civic Society, and a member of the Tunbridge Wells Health Authority. He governed Tonbridge, Judd and Claremont schools, but his most remarkable period of governance was his 34 year term at Marlborough House prep school in Hawkhurst, 24 of them as Chairman. He joined the Livery of the Skinners Company in 1954, became a member of the Court and Renter Warden in 1992, and Master in 1997, involving himself not only in school governance but every other aspect of the company’s business. His outstanding attributes are recalled as calmness, attention to detail, modesty, quiet sense of humour and his capacity for friendship across the whole range of the Company and its staff. In his own way David contributed much to keeping fresh the relationship between the Skinners Company and the School, as the governance of the school became more devolved. He also became fully involved in the activities of the Old Tonbridgian Society as its President and was present at virtually every OT event and meeting in the past 50 years. Engagement with the young was why David came into teaching, and the ever widening pool of former pupils with whom he kept in touch kept him sustained and renewed through his 30 year retirement.

We celebrate today everything David brought into our lives and we feel blessed to have known him and worked with him. We also think of Marion, whose love and support were so integral to everything David did, and of their children and grandchildren. David had a strong sense of duty and his was a life of great service to all those institutions of which he was so proud to be a member, above all this school. David loved Tonbridge for all his life and wanted the whole community to thrive and share in that love. I suspect he would probably have worked here for free, just for the sheer joy it gave him. He spanned 79 years at Tonbridge, but was happy to be just a fraction of the school’s 470 year heritage which was so meaningful to him – ‘small time but in that small most greatly lived’. He treasured the school’s past, but as teacher, and later as governor, he accepted change with good grace and wanted Tonbridge to continue moving forward confidently and eagerly into the future. David was Head of School in the retirement year of Vere Hodge, whose familiar hymn we will sing later. The hymn might have been written for David because he certainly ‘felt himself rewarded as long as Tonbridge throve’. We in our turn can thank God, in whom David trusted so unconditionally, that ‘beauty springs from the soil of duty’ and that we can celebrate today a life well lived and a man much loved.


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