Obituaries: Former Staff

Alastair Mackenzie 1933-2015

Alastair Mackenzie who passed away on the 29 June aged 82 was a much loved member of the Company which benefitted greatly from a man who lived a such a rich and rewarding life.

Alastair joined the Company in 1972 and became Master in 1994.  Many will remember him for his gentle and erudite good humour and his encyclopaedic knowledge of all things, from the ancient classics and English literature to cricket and wines.

Alastair was educated at Clifton College and Brasenose College, Oxford. It was at Clifton that he took up fives, later becoming one of the top players in the country and continuing into his seventies. Shortly after leaving Oxford he became a Master at St Paul’s School where he taught English and Classics. He was also appointed master in charge of fives which he continued to run for many years.

He has been described as a Renaissance man; he took huge pleasure in a wide variety of arenas, from Classical Greece and Rome, to music and the arts as well as many forms of sport. He was an avid tennis enthusiastic and no mean cricketer. One former pupil remembers Alastair for bowling both right and left arm in the same over much to the bemusement of the batsman. He was a lifelong member of the MCC.

When he was Master, the Company’s golf day was inadvertently arranged for the first day of the Lords Test match.  Golf was probably the only sport that did not interest Alastair. Nevertheless, he dutifully attended, listening to the commentary throughout on his radio.

Alastair’s appreciation and knowledge of wine was second to none and he organised various hugely enjoyable Livery wine tastings. He was an honorary life member of the Circle of Wine Writers and co-wrote standard works on Sauternes and St Emilion and Pomerol. His book, ‘Daumas Gassac:The Birth of a Grand Cru’ in 1995 brought this hitherto little known wine to a wider audience and has become a classic.

Alastair was a loyal and steadfast supporter of the Company, as he was with everything he joined. His charm and erudition made him a much sought after dining companion. He will be sorely missed.

Our thoughts too are with Pauline and his family.

Jeremy Garnet

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I was very sorry to learn of the death of Alastair Mackenzie from the latest Old Pauline Bulletin.

Although Alastair did not teach me anything in the classroom it was in the world of sports that we met. I first got to know him aged around 14 in 1968 when boys first had the chance to learn to play squash at St Paul's (instead of Fives in the Spring term). In those days there were no squash courts at St Paul's and therefore he took us to Queen's Club in Barons Court (about 15 min walk from the old school site in West Kensington).  I can remember seeing lots of smashed rackets hanging on pegs outside a huge court from a sport I learnt that was called Rackets! That sport remained a mystery to me until St Paul's miraculously obtained its new racket court in 2000!

I can remember Alastair carefully showing us how to position our feet correctly in order to hit the ball in squash.  Alastair was an excellent teacher of all ball games and a good organiser. He soon organised a tournament for us beginners and I can remember the thrill of playing against Peter Kaufmann in the final (who later would find fame in the great 1st X1 Cricket side of 1970).

I will always be grateful to Alastair for installing into me a good technique for squash and a love of the game.

The other great memory I have of Alastair is his umpiring and general encouragement in all matters cricket.  In my day Alastair was in charge of the 2nd X1 Cricket. In 1970 as a 16-year-old I was selected to play for the second X1 in the last game of the season.  I was not called upon to bowl or bat. I cannot remember having any involvement at all apart from probably fielding!

However on the coach coming back to the school Alastair stood up and announced from the front of the coach that any the boys who had not been awarded their 2nd X1 colours could have it! Great joy on my part! Having worn a plain black funeral type tie for four years it was a thrill to obtain a 2nd XI tie.  I remember I proudly wore it every day to School despite having done nothing to deserve it!

A few years ago through the good offices of Peter King I bumped into my old school friend Philip Cullen watching a 1st XV rugby match at the School.  When I visited Philip in Paris, where he works, he reminded me that it was thanks to him that we won the match in question and he had scored about 30 runs!  Memory does not allow me to recall which school we played against but interestingly I have a picture of the team from those days which I obtained from him. There are, unusually, 12 us in the team! Maybe Alastair was kind enough not to insist that I stood down to make it 11! He must have turned a blind eye.

Another memory of Alastair is his slow lob bowling which he performed for the Old Pauline Cricket Club 3rd X1 with much success.

When I organised a dinner for the Old Pauline Football Club B XV about 1980 in honour of the retirement of Jimmy Howard I found it quite hard to organise and find a suitable venue. On hearing of my difficulties Alastair rallied to my aid by allowing me to put all the order for wine on his account at  Peter Dominic, Barnes. Many readers will know that Alastair was a noted master of wines and an expert in this field. I can still remember him commenting with great authority on the quality of the wine at the Mercers Hall!

I think Alastair in a very long career gave a lot to St Paul's and the Old Pauline Cricket Club. I will always be grateful to him for developing and encouraging my love of cricket and squash.

So sorry he has left us...

Richard Buxton (1966-1971)

Stephen Thomson 1943-2015

“Where's Mr T?”

I used to hear this when Old Boys came back to the school and wandered into the music department. There may or may not have been a preludial “Hello; how are you these days?” or whatever; it would really be Stephen whom they were after. Mr T to them, Stevie to us staff. He worked with us for half of the week, his arrival on Wednesday heralded by the drawing up of the white van, the creaking of his self-made harpsichord trolley and “Heigh-ho, Mr W; happy new week.” He taught keyboard and coached chamber groups with us for more or less thirty years – was it 1983 when he joined us?

To us, his colleagues, Stevie was always a bit of a mystery. Where did his prodigious stamina come from, his capacity to work at full stretch from pre-dawn to post-dusk (which he did until the forward march of Correct Workplace Practice clipped his wings) in the interests of his pupils? These lucky people were, in a way, his life – not in any possessive way but with some kind of extra ingredient which drew them to seek him out beyond the school context, visiting him in his Hampshire cottage in the holidays and keeping in touch after their time at School. Stephen was welcomed by his pupils' families and maybe found this especially nourishing through his having never enjoyed a long stretch of a happy family life of his own (at his funeral there were no next of kin). Yes, there were things most of us, perhaps all of us, didn't know. He was a private person and one whose own high standards in work and personal conduct were what he expected from others - and yet the guttering flame of a tentative pupil's enthusiasm and progress was more likely to be kept alight by Stephen than by any of the rest of us. Luxury was unknown to him; until fairly late in his time at the school his accommodation during his weekly spells with us was the Spartan but impressively well-ordered interior of his van, where a camp bed would be put up in between a harpsichord or two on their sides, the trolley and piles of sheet music. Only in the coldest of cold snaps would he ask if he could make use of one of our houses; on those very rare occasions a bed would be refused. The camp bed would grace the drawing room floor and, next morning, Stephen would be noiselessly gone long before our alarm-clocks had woken us. He was back into School to tune the harpsichords for the day ahead.

Stephen's teaching was unlike anyone else's. It was all very relaxed and yet there was something of sacred business about it - learning to live, not just to play. He would nurse the beginner and develop the very talented with equal joy and effectiveness. He was, first of all, a harpsichordist, organist and fortepianist, to whom phrasing by articulation was always of the greatest importance. (This came across so vividly in his own splendid, characteristic playing.) The modern piano was not his territory, and matters of colour and touch on it were something of a blind spot. He believed that harpsichordists should begin to develop fluency in figured-bass from the word go – hence the electrician's green insulating tape plastered all over his baroque continuo parts, leaving the bass-line and figures visible but obscuring the editors' realisations on the treble stave. So many pupils learned this from him over the years, a skill rarely acquired today until professional aspiration and training make it a necessity. To J.S.Bach's teenage sons this would have been like falling off a log; that's how Stevie wanted it for his harpsichordists – and got it.

Harpsichordists? But how do you practise at home? No problem for Stephen's pupils; once they'd got off the ground he was round to the family house in the van to drop off one of his many instruments - a kind of BarOcado service, with regular tuning part of the package.
The chamber groups - only Stevie could get useful rehearsal time out of an SPS morning break; admittedly a bottomless supply of biscuits helped. The performances - frequent presentation of music by composers seemingly unknown even to music-lexicographers, splendid performances of Bach's multiple-harpsichord concertos (five needed for the A minor - who else could produce this in a school?), the shaky efforts of the less expert; not for Stephen the immaculate, sterile collar-and tie performance, although often the results were wonderful - no, get them up there doing their stuff was his policy. So many pupils pleased with early successes, and grateful parents. So much encouragement. His compact figure sitting next to a beginner pianist at his first concert performance to reassure, the clean white shirt with small black ink-stain on the breast-pocket (there was never a jacket), the jangling bunch of keys attached to his belt - all these things, along with the trademark Mr T phrases, entirely part of him and never applied for effect.

Like many people who have achieved remarkable things - Montgomery and St Paul come to mind in an SPS context - Stephen was not an easy team-member. If he had an objective he wouldn't be deflected from its fulfilment. Sometimes his wiles in circumventing obstacles, or even vetos, generated exasperation and mirth in equal measure. That the Stevie Factor was almost always, in the end, accommodated in the department's routine and plans is an indicator of the respect and affection in which he was held.

I heard that Stephen had been in hospital but was now out and making progress. When I telephoned and asked, “are you up to enjoying some Columbo episodes on video?” (These were a favourite of his.) “Oh yes,” he said, “and playing a bit of Haydn.” He died not long afterwards, peacefully in his sleep.
St Mary's church, Upper Froyle, where Stephen had been organist, was packed to the walls for the funeral, with friends from Milton Keynes (where he taught for many years on days when he wasn't at SPS, Charterhouse or Tonbridge), from SPS and SPGS, from his Hampshire neighbourhood and from elsewhere. One old pupil had come over from Hong Kong. The hymn-singing was memorable, full of the sense of connection between musical voices and warm, thankful hearts.

Robin Wedderburn

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