The Association for Latin Teaching

respice prospice

Robert West

Robert and his younger brother  Geoff  grew  up  in Selsdon , South Croydon. With  typical modesty  he  never mentioned that, as a result of the 11+ exam, he had gained one of seven Surrey County  scholarships  to  Dulwich  College  and later  a major scholarship to Trinity College, Oxford.  He often  said  that  his time at Dulwich  shaped his life. There he enjoyed  Greek  tuition  from such  20th century   scholars as Philip Vellacott and Tony  Verity.  He also  learned to play  the organ and cello  A gifted mathematician , he could readily have  chosen  that  route , but  became committed to  classics    early in his school  career. He did, however, regret that   such  specialism  had precluded any  study of physics !  He   claimed   that  his  time at Oxford was “undistinguished” , but the depth and richness  of his classical  knowledge belied this.

After a PGCE at Bristol  Robert taught  Latin , Greek and ancient history for an  amazing 41 years at Bradford Grammar School . He was amused  , when setting off for his interview,  that  the  booking clerk at Temple Meads  railway station assumed  he was travelling   to the nearby  Bradford-on-Avon in  Wiltshire  . Eventually ,  Robert    persuaded the man   to  sell  him the correct ticket to  Bradford, West  Yorkshire . Despite the inexplicable removal of carriage after carriage  the further north the  train  proceeded  - as if to  ultima Thule indeed -  the journey  was a success - in all  senses.   In 1989  he  became  head of  classics at  a time of challenge with all  three of his colleagues being new appointments . Steering  his  department  with   characteristic  tact  , eloquence and sensitivity ,he fought his corner , resulting  in the good health of the subject in the school  to this day.  

After voluntarily  stepping  down  from HOD in 2006 , for five years, in addition to  classroom  teaching ,  he was Assistant Higher Education Adviser, offering pupils  valuable  guidance on university application . In this role he had the chance to  use his talent for capturing the essential  qualities of a pupil and presenting them  in lucid, elegant prose.  Colleagues  described  his reference- writing  as  “second to  none”.

Outside school   Robert  had  fingers  in  other  classical  pies . He had a long career as a Principal   examiner   with OCR,  firstly for GCSE Latin  from  its inception , then for GCSE Greek literature for a decade  and for A level Greek .  For   almost   two   decades he was a reviser/ assessor  and  then a scrutineer for classics papers at both levels. He spent a sabbatical  term at Selwyn College, Cambridge in 1996  working on a commentary  of  the Pro Milone - later published and currently the prescribed text for A level , a fitting tribute indeed- and  gave talks on this speech  at  various venues up  and down  the country. Respect for his  well-known expertise  caused  various firms to  approach  Robert from  time to  time if they were  searching for a Latin  motto  or logo . He appreciated the Homeric  trading  system  of Damart which paid him in kind with a  very  fine  pair of leather gloves !

Robert attended  ARLT Summer Schools  in 1974 and -5, returning in 1989 and every  subsequent year bar  one until 2016. He  led  many  option  groups ,  often on prose authors , including his favourite  Cicero, and on Latin prose composition where his scholarly approach, coupled with a gracious  geniality, were much  valued by participants.  From 2000-2009 he held the position  of Treasurer where his wise and thoughtful  advice ,gentle and gentlemanly approach to  individuals and complete reliability were  a real  strength , especially to  the officers with whom he worked most  closely  and when  tricky  issues of negotiation- with JACT, for example-had to  be tackled. He duly  became a Vice President and thus maintained his contribution to  the  committee

Apart from classics , Robert’s great interest  was music.  He regularly attended the Three Choirs Festival  and, as  a  very  fine bass, sang with the Halifax Choral Society . He  was  extremely fond of Elgar’s  work  in general and the Dream of Gerontius in particular , attending  so many performances of the latter that  he could almost  have become a professional  critic. The Times was bought for its crossword  and  Fiendish  Sudoku which  he swiftly demolished each  day. He was  a  committed worshipper at Wakefield  Cathedral   where he became a server and  secretary of the Cathedral Music Trust..

Robert was  always  willing  to  put  himself out for the benefit of others . This was literally true of the many  occasions  when he drove Wilf O’Neill to and from  Summer Schools or Refresher Days at  considerable inconvenience to  himself. In 2008, from  a  sense of loyalty,  Robert  left Uppingham  for 24 hours to  attend the funeral  in Bradford  of a former colleague who  was not even  a close friend. At Roehampton , 2013- the Year of the Arelas  Invalid , with a broken leg,  a dislocated shoulder , the frail elderly, a stay in hospital  via A+E- an excruciating back injury  added me to  the list for  a disabled room . These had all  been  allocated , but , despite his own  health issues , Robert gave up his en suite room for me  in a  much  appreciated act of kindness.

A scholarly man , a  perceptive listener , supportive of the highest  aims of the ARLT , viz., to encourage teachers and share a love of all things classical, he will  be  missed  for  his quick  wit and wisdom , his sense of humour and mental  acuity , his patience and generosity . Robert’s funeral ,  which  comprised  his own  choice of readings and music  , including Elgar’s Ave verum, was very  well attended and marked by warm reminiscence  and  a friendliness  that  developed between strangers over the refreshments because of their mutual  affection for him. He would  have found this very surprising as his most notable quality was self-deprecation.

We express our  deep sympathy to Geoff, Robert’s brother ,and to his many friends, especially those  who carried out a vigil of care in his final  week. A former pupil once gave Robert an epithet  which  we would thoroughly endorse- “ the marvellous and meticulous Mr West”. The ARLT owes him a  great  debt  of gratitude. It is no  small  comfort to  know that his long suffering after cancer and heart  disease is at  an end .

Lynda Goss

24 May 1948 - 09 January 2018

“ the marvellous and meticulous Mr West”