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My former Head of Year, (Mr) Gareth Warren has passed away – some reflections.

Mr Warren
It has taken me a few days to firstly hear, then to process, the news that my old Head of Year, (Mr) Gareth Warren, has passed away. He was just 61 years old when he died of pancreatic cancer.

I don’t want to eulogise him here. Nor do I want to place him on the pedestal that society reserves only for the dead. Instead, I want to explain why I respected him, even as a teenager when respect was perhaps in shorter supply than it should have been, and significantly why I still respect him to this day.

Mr Warren (it still fills wrong referring to teachers by their first name) had the image of being tough. Almost to the point of caricature, he had a way a sweeping into a classroom that would bring silence and apprehension to even the worst behaved of kids. Invariably he would burst in, take a few exaggerated slow steps through the door and pick with a trained eye the instigator of the troubles before muttering through a thick growl their surname (a hangover from rugby coaching that found its way into the classroom). Their surname would inexplicably gain a syllable at the end adding an ‘e’ noise (Hynd became, Hynd-e).

This, if your name was muttered, was your cue to follow him out of the classroom.

This demeanour though was at least only part charade. Embedded within his teaching was a philosophy of tough love. I have never met a teacher before or since that was better equipped to deal with the plethora of problems, mood swings and anxieties that teenagers have.

When it was needed he was there with his thick growl to bollock you, and believe me, bollock you he would. But, at the same time, he was also there to support you when you needed. I can think of a dozen kids in my year that would have been expelled from most other schools but who stayed at Chosen Hill thanks to Mr Warren’s personal intervention and support.

The current Deputy Head, Shirley Bridgen gave a reasonable summary of this approach to the local paper saying:

“He genuinely believed that all children deserved a chance, especially those who struggled at times to find their way.

“To these students there was an open door, always a way back – this was his philosophy”

This is true. But all of this though makes him sound incredibly earnest like some sort of British Erin Gruwell. He wasn’t – he had a great patience and sense of humour when dealing with kids and style all of his own.

Maybe an anecdote will serve best to illustrate this:

I can remember flouting the no jewellery rule day in day out at school wearing some wooden beads around my neck (don’t ask, something to do with the fashion in the late 90s). To begin Mr Warren asked me to take them off, which I did before putting them back on again. Later, he tried confiscating them for a week – after which I would put them back on again. Finally it got to point where he walked up behind me one day and put one hand on my shoulder, untied the beads, and said (and I remember this very clearly), “Steve you are as insolent as you are annoying” before smiling to himself and walking off shaking his head.

Later that day I got called into his office. He was sat behind the desk wearing my beads and my sunglasses (also confiscated earlier that week). He sat me down and asked me why I didn’t want to be a year 11 prefect. To which I answered, in a way that only as insolent and annoying 15 year old could, that I didn’t want an unpaid job that made me stop people wearing their own necklaces.

Trying not to smile but obviously smirking he then asked me if I would help him out. He asked me if I would speak at some careers event at Gloucester Rugby Club later that day on behalf of the school. I agreed I think mainly because Mr Warren had asked me, not because I actually wanted to.

I guess this anecdote is just about his skill as a teacher, balancing hard-nosed discipline with a light touch of humour and goodwill.  Turning around a situation in one day to be about the student and ultimately what was best for them.

When leaving the Rugby Club after the event Mr Warren thanked me for giving such a good speech. Despite myself, I remember enjoying the compliment. Maybe fishing for another I then asked him why he asked me to talk at the event. He answered, “Because Hynd-e, I can’t get you to shut up so I thought you might as well put your gift of the gab to good use”.

13 years later I work in Communications. I think he might have spotted something in me before even I did.


UPDATE (from facebook):

A celebration of the life of Gareth Warren will take place on Friday 20th June, 3:30pm at Gloucester Cathedral. All are welcome.

Family have requested no mourning clothes.

Donations to Pancreatic Cancer UK via www.justgiving.com/GarethWarren


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A tribute to Marie Colvin

As 2012 slips into the confines of history, I wanted to pay one last tribute to Marie Colvin – one history’s greatest journalists that 2012 so cruelly took from us. I want to ensure that something of her ethos lives on in my writing.

Marie Colvin

Marie Colvin

Marie Colvin is one of the 121 journalists who lost their lives in 2012.  She lost her life in Syria surrounded by the same killings, war crimes and atrocities that she had spent her life reporting as a war correspondent.

She not only did a job that many of us would be unable to do, but she did it without losing a sense of humanity in some of the darkest situations.

Jeremy Bowen described her “big reserves of empathy” – something that is so vital when you spend your time examining the worst humanity has to offer.

In a 2010 speech in Fleet Street Marie described the role of a war correspondent saying:

“Covering a war means going to places torn by chaos, destruction and death, and trying to bear witness. It means trying to find the truth in a sandstorm of propaganda when armies, tribes or terrorists clash…

Despite all the videos you see from the Ministry of Defence or the Pentagon, and all the sanitised language describing smart bombs and pinpoint strikes, the scene on the ground has remained remarkably the same for hundreds of years. Craters. Burned houses. Mutilated bodies. Women weeping for children and husbands. Men for their wives, mothers children.

Our mission is to report these horrors of war with accuracy and without prejudice”

What fascinates and inspires me however is what drove her to then put what she saw down onto paper.

Ingrained in Marie’s writing was a belief, a belief that if the atrocities that she witnessed were recorded and reported then at least there was the potential for action to be taken. Accountability.

If war zones are left without accountability we take nothing into the future except for the loss, anger and desperation which comes to define the bloody aftermath of war.

Marie’s writing acted as a basket to carry the possibility of justice forward. Without accountability, the truth, in all its bloody detail, is left to soak into the cracks of history.

Perhaps part of what drove Marie, and certainly what motivates a lot of my writing and human rights work, is more than just the possibility for action. It is the belief that people care.

In the same speech in 2010 Marie went onto say:

The real difficulty is having enough faith in humanity to believe that enough people be they government, military or the man on the street, will care when your file reaches the printed page, the website or the TV screen”

In 2013, I am going to take these words with me.

I doubt I will find my ways into the war zone of Syria, but I am sure, wherever I end up, there will be human stories to tell. I hope that you, the reader, will also take these words with you.

I do what I do because, like Marie, I trust that you care.

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