29 August 2022
(John, pictured above at his retirement from the Governing Body in 2017, with KGS Headmaster, Mr D H Berry)
John Waite, MBE
It is with great sadness that we announce the death at the age of 91 of a true Kirkham Grammar School great, John Waite, MBE, a distinguished former pupil and a long-serving member of the Governing Body.
His connections with the School were multiple, but he is best remembered by the KGS community as a stalwart governor, who in 2017 completed a remarkable 75 year association with the School. He was universally regarded as the proverbial “safe pair of hands”, willing and able to make difficult decisions where necessary but always with a sensitive human touch. However, his association with the School stretched all the way back to boyhood: John joined KGS as a First Year pupil in 1942, so the first part of his school career took place against the background of the Second World War, with the School dealing with the privations of wartime: regular teachers serving in the armed forces, covered by temporary staff and older teachers brought out of retirement, and news of old boys killed or injured in conflict overshadowing the life and work of the School.
He nevertheless enjoyed a successful school career, developing a lifelong love of and concern for the School and all that it stands for. His time at KGS overlapped with that of his younger brother Eric, who has also retained a lifelong connection with the school, both in his own right and as husband of the late Professor Barbara Robotham.
John left school in 1947 and joined what was then the English Electric Company as a trade apprentice, rising through the ranks as the company became first the British Aircraft Cooperation, then British Aerospace and finally BAE Systems. He became Executive Director of General Projects at British Aerospace, overseeing the development and production of some of the Company’s most iconic and prestigious aircraft and was awarded an MBE for his services to the Aerospace Industry in 1974. In the mid-1980s, it was the expertise, experience and technical know-how of John and his Preston and Samlesbury-based teams which led to the restoration of a four-decades-old Spitfire aircraft which had been used as a static ‘gate guardian’ at an RAF base for years, returning it to the skies.
On leaving school, he immediately became a prominent and active member of the Old Kirkhamians’ Association, and his son Chris enjoyed a successful school career at KGS in the 1970s. Unsurprisingly given his skills and expertise, as well as his love of the School, he was invited to become a Governor, serving with distinction through the tenure of five different Headmasters, all of whom benefitted hugely from his wise counsel. He served as Chairman from 1991 to 1995, a period of rapid growth both in pupil numbers and in the School’s buildings and facilities. Having served on the Board throughout the School’s period of rapid growth and development during the years since independence in 1979, he deployed his expertise as a project manager to great effect in overseeing the many and varied building projects that took place during those years. It was during his period as Chairman that the Junior School Buildings were completed and opened, Science Accommodation in the Norwood Block improved and expanded, the Lodge Building designed and constructed and a purpose-built Sixth Form Centre created out of ageing and austere 1950s classrooms.
Before he was Chairman, he was closely involved in the project to build a multi-purpose hall which proved to be the key to so much subsequent growth and progress. The Hall, which was re-named the Summerlee Hall in 2016 in memory of the Headmaster who oversaw the project, stands as testimony to the vision and ambition of the Governing Body at that time, and John was among several proud Governors from that era who were present at the re-naming ceremony in July 2016.
However, John’s biggest and most lasting legacy to the School is the building which bears his name. He was closely involved in this project, which involved the final demise of the temporary classrooms which had served the School so well for almost thirty years after independence, but which had outlived their intended lifespan. John was given the honour of taking a turn at the controls of one of the mechanical diggers which were used to flatten the old classrooms, and he took great delight in playing such a symbolically important role in launching a process which was of such clear importance to the long-term growth and prosperity of the School. More importantly, he played a crucial role in ensuring that a build which had to take place in the tightest of timeframes, namely between the start of summer exams study leave and the resumption of a full teaching programme at the start of the autumn term, remained on schedule.
The buildings were duly completed within the required timescale, due in no small part to John’s keen and attentive interest. It was a truly proud moment for him when the building, bearing his name, was formally opened in April 2008.
When he stepped down from the Governing Body in 2017, his retirement was marked with a presentation and reception attended by guests and governors past and present. Throughout his many years on the Governing Body, John maintained a steadfast commitment to the school of which he was so manifestly proud. His wisdom and sense of fairness and propriety meant that he could always be relied upon to make judgements which were prudent, putting the interests of the School and those who attend it ahead of those of any individual. In so doing, he was instrumental in ensuring that KGS survived and prospered at a time when so many other similar schools in the area have either closed altogether or have lost their historic identity and mission.
Kirkham Grammar School is in many ways unrecognisable from the boys’ county grammar school that eleven year old John Waite joined in 1942, and many of the modern buildings and facilities enjoyed by today’s pupils stand as his legacy. Yet in another way, arguably more important, John was a custodian of the School’s traditions and heritage, working to ensure that the School retains the distinctive atmosphere and ethos that gives it the same enduring appeal today as throughout its long and proud history.
John leaves behind a son, three grandchildren and four great grandchildren, to whom we extend our sincere condolences.
John Waite MBE