Mr. G. Lafferty - English Master, 1961-75
Sadly, Gerry Lafferty died on August 15th, 2005, aged 75. Tributes and memories will be posted here as they come in. Also, check the Guestbook for more memories.
Photograph: Mr. Gerry Lafferty, Mr. Jim Golland and Mr. Fred Bilson - at the December 9th 2001 reunion.
Another Photograph at the December 2001 reunion
Obituary from Mr. Fred Bilson
Tributes in chronological order of years at HCS:
From Nigel Morley
Dear Mrs Lafferty,
May I pass my condolences to you and your family on the death of Gerry.
You do not know me and indeed, I never met or spoke to your husband after leaving school. When Gerry arrived at Harrow, he was like a breath of fresh air compared to the reactionary and Edwardian attitudes at the school. Although I took sciences, he was an inspiration to myself and my peer group.
He and a fellow colleague treated the boys as adults, rather than cannon fodder for the school statistics on University and Oxbridge entrance. Gerry was one of the few people to write anything complimentary on my school report. He kindly noted that although school played very little part in my life, society would hear more of me in the future.
I hope he put the same words on my best school friendís report, Paul. Sir Paul Nurse as he is now, is President of the Rockefeller Institute in Manhattan and a Nobel Laureate of Medicine. Such was the nature of the boys Gerry taught and even some 40 years later, we still have fond memories of his inspirational nature, which was sometimes at odds with the draconian environment we both found ourselves in.
Over the years the Gaytonian website has constantly lauded your husbandís achievements. However, your husbandís greatest achievement is in the success of hundreds of pupils he taught, but perhaps more importantly, their fond memories and respect for a decent man.
Finally, once again my sincerest condolences to you and your family.
Nigel Morley, MRPharmS
From Richard Salter, QC
What do I remember of Gerry Lafferty? A flurry of gown, chalk and inhaler – the Guinness logo on the key ring - a musical, emphatic, Scots burr of a voice – lists of new authors on the blackboard – reading Henry V in class – Julius Caesar on stage - the passion when talking of the things he cared about.
So many of us who passed through HCS in the 1960s owe so much to Gerry’s wisdom and humanity: his enthusiasm for life, as well as for literature; his ability to instil self-belief in the boys he taught.
Gerry taught us well: but, most of all, he taught us to think for ourselves. He exhorted us to read the Times (in all its pre-Murdoch establishment pomp), but also to subscribe to the New Statesman (then at its subversive height). He set us challenges. Read (and be able to talk intelligently about) Portrait of the Artist, and I will trust you with my copy of Ulysses (this was before Penguin brought out the paperback). Concentrate on Pattern of Islands and Silas Marner in term time, and your holiday reading can be Fahrenheit 451, Catcher in the Rye, and Player Piano. Memorise the characteristics of Milton’s minor verse, and I will show you lyrics by Donne and Shakespeare sonnets that will catch at your heart.
Gerry showed us that books could be doors into other people’s worlds, and that even the critic’s most dryly technical tools could be the keys to unlock them. Books were fun. Books were there to challenge us, and to be challenged. Nothing was too sacred to be questioned.
Gerry was a great teacher. He kindled in me a joy in literature that propelled me through Oxford, and that stays with me still. I count myself truly fortunate to have had the privilege of being taught by him.
From Stephen Frost:
Gerry Lafferty was probably the best English master who ever taught me. A great man, approachable and kind.
We got through so many set books in the early 1960s, many of them classics that have probably disappeared from today's English syllabus: The Oak Settle, The 39 Steps, Kidnapped, The Last of the Mohicans, Prester John, The Cruel Sea, A Kid for Two Farthings, David Copperfield, Silas Marner, Great Expectations, A Pattern of Islands and Diary of a Nobody.
And an awful lot of Shakespeare: Julius Caesar, The Merchant of Venice, Macbeth, Henry IV Parts I and II, Henry V and Hamlet. “Julius Caesar is like an onion, the more you peel off, the more you find …”(first form). “Macbeth is like an onion, the more you peel off, the more you find…”(third form). “Hamlet is like an onion, the more you peel off, the more you find…” (sixth form). And so much poetry, Masefield, Thomas, Pope.
During the very hot summer of 1967, I remember him teaching us the theory of English poetry in B4 before it was converted into the language lab. Trochees, spondees, dactyls and iambs. Blank verse and heroic couplet.
Gerry drove in from Gerrards' Cross every day in his grey VW. He was often late in the morning and missed assembly. Was that due to the distance involved or Gerry's small protest at something he disliked? In the sixth form 1968-70, he arranged for budding lefties and dissidents to be able to subscribe to New Statesman, surely something that would not have been permitted during Square's regime. Gerry was something of a non-conformist, and that was one of the reasons many of us liked him.
So farewell then Gerry Lafferty
You were the greatest English (er, Scottish) master who taught me
How to read, think and spell
Though now I ma leraning how to use a smell checker
(apologies to E.J. Thribb)
Gerry told us he never put pupils in detention and he never used corporal punishment. How many other masters would say that to their charges? Another measure of his qualities.
He was a man take him for all in all.
We shall not look upon his like again.
Stephen Frost (1963-70)
From Katie Finch (Percival)
Very sad news: the teachers who really mattered in my education were not those at the Girls School, who mostly bored and exasperated me, but those I met through convergence and the Old Gayts Drama Club at the Boys School. Jim Golland, Fred Bilson, Gerry Lafferty and the mighty Harry Mees. It was a delight to be involved with Gerry's production of Hamlet: always supportive, encouraging, entertaining and boy,could we pack a lot of costumes into his volkswagon beetle. I shall long treasure the memory of him at the Drama Reunion: we had one chance for a read through of the script before the event, so compere Francis Matthews and I went into the Art Room (formerly the backstage cloakroom/S1/S2) to run through it and Gerry came along too. Perched on a stool, laughing at all the terrible jokes, offering advice and having a good time. He made it such fun- but then, he always did.
From Jon Grunewald:
Actually I attribute most of what I have achieved in life to Gerry Lafferty, if only because I had little academic ability other than in English, and I don't think I'd have made it to Oxford to study English Literature without his encouragement (given liberally to all his pupils) and his skill in teaching us. He was one of those "captain, my captain" teachers. And better than Robin Williams. One of his gifts was to teach us to recognise bad poetry for what it was. That was quite a shock at first, because schoolboys are usually encouraged to treat all poetry with reverence and fear. If you could manage to understand the author's intention, you could then admire the poem. Never ridicule it. But Jock Lafferty read us the poetry of William Macgonagall ("alas noble Prince Leopold, he is dead! Who often hath his lustre shed". Shed?!) and I have a recollection of one wonderful lesson when he took us through a poem which began with something about the jonquils blooming in Samarkhand and finished "and Stratford's church guards dearer dust, Than Omar's shrine". We weren't sure what to make of it at first. It was a poem that rejoiced in the fact that our nation had given birth to Shakespeare. Yes, said Jock, in a comical parody of a Scottish housewife, it's simply telling us "WE'VE got the BEST". And we could then see through the images, the assonance and the iambic rhythmns, to the shallow sentiments inside the poem. It was probably afterwards that I got into trouble with Jago for making fun of some lines in Wordsworth... still, Jock's encouragement to us to question authority, read a good newspaper and to enjoy art rather than fear it, was something we all took away with us into our future lives. As Jock would have said: am I right or am I wrong? It was nice to be asked - not every teacher did. And he was usually right, anyway.
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