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OTS President's Message

Sir Guy Newey (SH 72-76) reflects on his year as OTS President (2019-2020)

The Old Tonbridgian Society’s outgoing President, The Rt. Hon. Lord Justice Newey (SH 72-76) looks back at his presidency.

We all think we know the Chinese curse, “May you live in interesting times”. It turns out that the “curse” is not in fact Chinese at all, but probably derives from a speech made by Joseph Chamberlain, the influential British politician about whom I first learned in Mike Bushby’s history lessons. That, however, does not belie the substance. The “interesting times” we are living in are certainly an affliction.

When I spent a day at Tonbridge last September, I was interviewed by Will Webster, a sixth former. Asked to identify particular challenges facing the British legal system, I mentioned access to justice and Brexit. In the event, while such issues have by no means gone away, the Courts are now having to grapple with the implications of Covid-19. The cases I have heard since the lockdown in March have all been conducted using Skype for Business or Teams. Jury trials are yet more problematic.

OT events have not been spared. The drinks reception scheduled for May and June’s summer lunch have each had to be cancelled. An OT President’s year is, however, front-loaded, with much of the activity taking place in the first half of his time in office. I was lucky enough, therefore, to have the chance both to meet fellow OTs at various functions between June and Christmas of last year and to renew my links with the school and its staff. A highlight was the Remembrance Sunday service and the lunch after it for former members of staff. One of those attending was Mike Bushby, who proved just as engaging, thoughtful and interesting as he had been when teaching me in the mid-1970s and whom I had not seen since. Alas, I was to learn of his death only about three months later. I should like to mention, too, Patrick Tobin, who again taught me history and whom I found inspirational. I very much regret to say that he died in April of this year.

Under James Priory’s leadership, Tonbridge has responded magnificently to the present crisis. Teaching has continued apace online in tandem with support for the NHS through the assessment centre which has been set up at the school and the manufacture and distribution of face masks. The dedication and ingenuity of the staff are abundantly clear.

Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles now succeeds me as OT President. While I think we overlapped only at Tonbridge, his Who’s Who entry confirms that we are alike also products of the New Beacon and Freston Lodge, a prep school in Sevenoaks which closed down when I was ten. Rather more recently, he was kind enough to arrange for my son (SH, 2002-2007) to visit the Foreign Office when he was thinking about possible careers. I wish Sherard all the very best for his time as OT President.

The Rt. Hon. Lord Justice Newey (SH 72-76)

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