Tributes paid to Wheathampstead School’s one and only headteacher

John Desmond Thomas with the Queen Mother during the formal opening of Wheathampstead School in 1967

John Desmond Thomas with the Queen Mother during the formal opening of Wheathampstead School in 1967 - Credit: Archant

Family members of a headteacher, who presided over the now-closed secondary school between its opening in 1965 and subsequent closure in 1986, have spoken of their fond memories of a “true man of the community”.

John Desmond Thomas, 89, head of Wheathampstead School, died last month after suffering from pnemonia and his son, Gareth, and his wife, Jane, have told the Herts Advertiser that he would be remembered as a “loving father, a loving husband and a ‘taid’,” an old Welsh word for grandfather.

Gareth, 58, said: “He was out every evening doing something or other. He liked to be involved – he was chairman of the Harpenden Scout Group, chairman of the nursery school, chairman of the youth club, he was on the James Marshall Trust – all these things. He like to be involved with the community.

“The thing about Wheathampstead [School] was that it was very much a community school, very friendly, and it did a lot for the village of Wheathampstead and the surrounding villages.”

John, who was born in Llan Ffestiniog, North Wales, studied English, French and Spanish at Birkbeck University, London, before moving his young family to Harpenden, where he had helped found Wheathampstead School.

During the school’s formal opening in 1967, John took the Queen Mother on a tour of the new school - an event which the Herts Advertiser covered.

Speaking about his father’s funeral in Harpenden last month, Gareth said: “It was very well attended – many more people than we expected. We got the larger of the crematorium halls and they were having to bring in more chairs, because it was so full. Dad was like a father to a lot of other people.”

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Jane said: “We’ve received so many cards from people who have said, for example, ‘you’ve helped me with my O-Level exam in English’, and then another one wrote to say how he used to tell them stories, historical stories, when she was a little girl.

“He was well-known and well-liked.”

John leaves three sons, Gareth, Kelvin, 57, and Deryl, 54, and nine grandchildren aged between 18 and 28.

Wheathampstead School was closed at a time when population projections pointed to a shortfall in pupils for the district’s secondary schools. Subsequently, quite the opposite has proved to be the case and there has been lobbying for a new secondary school to open in the village.