Tuesday, 13 August 2013

This week, one of Wisbech's finest has passed from us. George Campion, teacher, football man, friend - and intrepid cyclist - has died at the age of 75. I first met him when my wife and he were colleagues at the short lived, curious, but always entertaining private school - St Paul's Gorefield. It was a school which set out to provide what might be called niche education for those youngsters who, for whatever reason, were finding things tough at larger schools. I have to say that although many of the children were delightful, there was always a slightly 'Decline and Fall' atmosphere about the place, and George regarded the school - and its two proprietors - with a kind of cynical benevolence. Eventually, when I got a call at work from my wife one Friday morning in December, to say that the proprietor had locked the school and fired all the staff. It was  rather a sad end to what had seemed a bright and optimistic enterprise. George helped my wife run a kind of home school at our house for some of the children for the remainder of that Christmas term. Over the next two years or so, George and my wife had to go to the small claims court to get their unpaid salaries, but eventually, after putting charges on the proprietor's house, honour was satisfied, and the money was paid.

Meanwhile, George had achieved his fifteen minutes of fame by being at the centre of Sandwichgate - when Wisbech Town FC, of which George was chairman, got into major trouble for not providing proper sandwiches for a visiting tea. There was much mirth drummed up by the national media, and the club were eventually suspended from the league, but as with all mini dramas, everyone moved on and the affair was consigned to the footnotes of Wisbech history.

My third son, who now has a Masters' Degree, was a rather eccentric and fragile lad when he was little, and after one too many episodes of him coming home from primary School in tears, we sent him to St Paul's. He developed an instant bond with George and as he grew up he came to regard George as a kind of surrogate grandfather. He became a passionate follower of Wisbech Town, often used to help with bits and pieces like selling programmes, and was encouraged by George to take his referees' badges and become involved with the sport at grass roots level. He will be taking George's passing particularly hard.

Although George had a good decade on me, age-wise, we both were educated at long since defunct Teacher Training Colleges. We were both proud bearers of that archaic award, the Certification In Education, or Cert Ed for short. We shared a distrust of modern teaching methods, but George had an infinite faith in the inherent goodness of young people, including some of the exludees from local schools, for whom visits from George were their only contact with learning. He was also much in demand by the parents of less troubled souls, who wanted to help their children with grammar school entrance exams, or to untangle the complexities of GCSE maths.

He was a man of infinite kindness. When my boys were youngsters, we didn't always have a great deal of money to spend on extras as a family, as my wife had chosen not to dance the Maternity Leave Tango, but instead put her career on hold while she brought the boys up herself. George had a static caravan up near Heacham, and let Diane and the boys use it whenever they felt the need to get away for a few days. He would take no payment, but would gratefully accept a bottle of his favourite Southern Comfort for his trouble.

It could be said of George that he was a simple man, but a man who saw and understood the complexities of life, and that he was a man of great learning, but one who wore his learning lightly. He was a familiar figure, pottering along the Lynn Road and about town on his ancient bicycle. We met each other infrequently over the last few years, as my boys had all left home to seek their fame and fortune elsewhere. I last bumped into him in the Market Place, me on my bike and he on his. His first question was always, "How are the boys..?" I was always pleased to give him a positive reply, but I just wish now that I had been gifted with the foresight to add the words, "Thanks in no small measure to you, George."