St Peter's School
E.A.K. Denison, OBE TD MA
Delivering his eulogy at Teddy Denison’s service of thanksgiving at Bossall on 13th September, Ashley Burgess, a friend of many years, prefaced his remarks by saying that Teddy was a ‘remarkable man’ and indeed he was since in the almost ninety-one years of his life he achieved an extraordinary amount, touching the lives of many people, either in the help and encouragement he gave them or by influencing institutions that were affecting them. He was a strong character, a man of many parts, invariably good humoured, generous, compassionate and wise but, above all, always prepared to give time to people who had a doubt or a difficulty.
Teddy was born on 13th September 1928 and spent his early years in York. He entered St Olave’s School in September 1936 and later progressed to St Peter’s. His school years were clearly energetic and happy; as well as doing well scholastically, he enjoyed sport, in particular boxing and shooting, joined the CCF, edited the Peterite, acted in the school play and was prominent in the debating society. In February 1945 he opposed the motion ‘Women can no longer be regarded as the weaker sex’ which was defeated - an early sign of Teddy’s powers of advocacy? He became Head of Temple House and Vice-Head of School.
After St Peter’s he was called up for National Service and was commissioned into the East Yorkshire Regiment. Posted to Vienna, he had the distasteful task of returning Russian soldiers who had been captured or who had deserted, to their own country to face an uncertain future. A life-long interest in soldiering remained with him from that time and was to continue in a strong commitment to the TA when he commanded the Third Battalion of the PWO Regiment of Yorkshire and later became its Honorary Colonel. After the Army he read history and law at Brasenose College, Oxford while winning a Blue for boxing.
Teddy’s professional career largely revolved around his work as a solicitor, first with Denison Suddards and later Denison Till, a leading York legal firm of which he was in due course the senior partner. In parallel he developed an interest in politics being elected to serve on both the District and the County Council. His political interest manifested itself in other ways and, had the opportunity arisen, he might have considered an involvement at Westminster. His respect for politicians may not have been universal but his wish to influence those who entered that particular arena was always to the fore with comments usually pithily delivered!
But it was to St Peter’s School that Teddy always gave his undivided attention. His alma mater and its future wellbeing were ever at the top of his agenda developing over time into a strong desire to ensure that the school should thrive. His twenty-three years as a governor and later Vice-Chairman when he served alongside five headmasters, three Deans of York - the ex-officio chairmen of the Governing Body - and three bursars, saw many radical changes to the way in which the school was governed and future developments in size and scope were decided and executed. Co-education, the 1989 Appeal, the Chillman Building, the acquisition of Clifton Preparatory School, the purchase of Linton Lodge as a boarding house, the advent of league tables, the creation of a Foundation to fund and support wider philanthropic policies and the opening moves to purchase the site of Queen Anne’s School to permit an expansion of the campus, all occurred during Teddy’s time on the Governing Body. However, his most enduring legacy was perhaps reform of the school’s articles of governance. Since time immemorial the St Peter’s Governing Body had always been chaired by the contemporary Dean of York. Leading up to the Millennium Dean John Southgate and Teddy agreed that such an arrangement was no longer appropriate in a world where school governance was demanding increased commitment from those involved, greater continuity and growing transparency. As a result, after many years as Vice-Chairman, Teddy became the first elected Chairman in 1995, a position he held for five years until retiring and being appointed a Fellow of the school. Nearly thirty years involvement with an institution he cherished.
So how will Teddy be remembered by those who knew and worked with him? Andrew Trotman who began his time as Headmaster when Teddy became chairman, records their embarking on joint leadership of the school when Teddy ‘gave great support stipulating clear guidelines and teaching the value of building networks’. Robin Pittman, Andrew’s predecessor as Headmaster always appreciated their relationship while not holding back from challenging Teddy when he felt that necessary. As a result each respected the other. Nick Shepherd, appointed a governor by Teddy, admired his ‘business-like approach and his ability to steer the school through some challenging times, realizing that modern day schools needed to adapt to the market place.’ Similar comments have been made by others. Finally his citation as a Fellow recorded that he would be remembered for many different reasons not least that ‘he was a modernizer, a natural chairman – possessing both enormous charm and great powers of persuasion - never afraid of the challenges faced by the school and well able to guide the Governing Body through many difficult decisions.’
Most of those who are successful in life have the good fortune to benefit from a happy and settled home life. Teddy had that in abundance with Mary too associating herself with St Peter’s almost as much as Teddy, although in different ways. Their children and grandchildren equally enjoyed an involvement with the school and the family’s support for St Peter’s could truly be described as second to none. We all – family, school, friends and colleagues – can say that we have lost a good and respected personal friend, a man who had time for everybody and who could always see the bigger picture and, when appropriate, actually did something about it.
Major General David Murray Naylor CB MBE DL
Editor’s note: Murray Naylor was appointed to the Board by Teddy and served as his Vice Chairman before succeeding him as Chairman in 2000.