Douglas Robb: This is Your Life
Herewith the text of a speech I gave to pay tribute to Mr Robb as he left Oswestry to move to Gresham's. I constructed the speech to read a bit like a Michael Aspel 'This is Your Life' tribute:
You were born Douglas Robert Kenneth Robb on the 3rd September 1970, the youngest of three children. Just before your birth your father had said to your mother: “Boy, girl or monkey this is the last." And so it proved. You emerged into the world weighing in at an eye-watering 10.5lb You had a happy childhood in which the first traits of the Headmaster we know and love started to emerge. Those booming tones in the chapel have their root in St Saviour’s Church in Birkenhead, for example, where you were a chorister.
Your love of sport also took root during your school days. You played rugby for Birkenhead 1st XV a big all-boys school in which making the 1st XV was no mean feat. In those childhood holidays you spent your time in Devon but also on Harris in the Hebrides, where you nursed your Scottish roots. The wearing of the MacDonald tartan kilt and trousers followed.
After school you headed off to Edinburgh University to read Economics and Politics. Headmastering was far in the future and you had a wild time. Your love of sport and of socialising found its outlet in your role as President of Edinburgh University Rugby Club. Whilst a student your connection with Africa and with Zimbabwe in particular took root. You took it upon yourself to cycle/hitch hike the 2500km from Nairobi to Harare making it all the way AND taking in a successful climb of Kilimanjaro on the way. After university the lure of Africa proved irresistible and you returned to Harare to teach at Prince Edwards school - the school now linked so strongly and successfully with Oswestry.
Up to this point life had been a breeze - you had collected academic and sporting accolades effortlessly and enjoyed robust good health - but here you encountered your first major setback. A motorbike accident in Harare resulted in a terribly damaged leg and the onset of septicemia. You were evacuated to Sydney where your parents were staying with your sister at the time - the Robbs are adventurous people. You won’t like the pop psychology I’m about to indulge in now, but it’s quite possible that battling against that terrible infection honed the steely grit that you’ve needed to draw on some times at Oswestry. There have been difficult, unpopular decisions to make - decisions that have required perseverance and a great deal of self belief - no one can ever accuse you of timidity or indecision. We’re going to miss that hugely when you leave.
The senior management team got a bit of an insight into this at the meal that had been laid on for the three shortlisted candidates to succeed you. As we walked into the bar at the Sweeney hotel the elephant, quite literally wasn’t in the room. It felt odd. The person who always has an answer or an opinion wasn’t there - all of us commented on how it made us feel vulnerable and exposed.
My kids when they first met you thought you looked a little bit like Shrek. So it’s fitting that on your return from Africa to the UK you didn’t waste time in finding and then marrying your princess - Lucinda.
A teaching career beckoned and you started your first job at Loughborough Grammar School where you spent 2 years. You were always much better suited to school mastership in its fullest sense though, so found the day school regime a bit tame. It was at Oundle that you really found your feet, rising up through the ranks quickly to become housemaster of Bramston - a house with a skull and cross-bones as its motif - rather fitting for a teacher with a healthy disdain for the panjandrums of educational officialdom.
You ran the house with great flair and warmth - and fittingly got stuck into all that schoolmastering in its fullest sense involves. You ran rugby teams, striking up a warm friendship and productive partnership with John Olver.The clay pigeon society became sought after and popular as did the game shoots you got involved in from which enormous game pies ensued.
In the classroom and around the school you were known for your eccentric dress sense, but also for your real interest in the welfare: academic and pastoral of pupils. The word ‘legend’ has a very special meaning in public schools of Oundle’s type. It is reserved only for the very best teachers. But you were regularly described in the classrooms, bedsits and playfields of Oundle using that term - the highest praise a schoolboy can bestow - a legend.
Just before I came into the marquee I received a call from Johnny Hammond-Chambers one of your colleagues from Oundle. He asked me to mention the raucous skiing trips you ran for the parents and pupils in Bramston and the enormous craters you left in the mountainside when you crashed. As at Oswestry, shorts were your legwear of choice at Oundle.
Bramston faces onto the market square at Oundle and things could get a bit rowdy at the weekends. Your ability to scare off hordes of drunken locals with a cricket bat - sometimes dressed only in boxer shorts - speaks volumes about the presence and authority you command.
But you’re an ambitious sort and so it’s not surprising that after 10 years Oundle could constrain you no more and you came to Oswestry. We’re very glad you did…