John Clark (Dragon Staff from 1955 - 1968)
To many he was 'Clarkie'; to a few boys who had researched his middle name he was Rorie; to almost all who worked with him he was a mixture of inspiration, challenge, knowledge on a wide front, and good fun; to very few if any was he a dull nonentity.
John Clark came to the Dragon Common Room in 1955 via Rugby School, National Service in the Navy, and Lincoln College. Initially his was a typical all-round assistant master's role of those days: a lowly-ish form in age and ability, teaching Latin to it and other subjects there and elsewhere, junior games, duties in school and on dorms. English was his major subject, however, and he was unforgettable well before he became Head of the Department. In those days there were Staff known to have a quick fag in the five minutes timetabled between lessons, whilst the boys kicked each other to bits in the Rink, won some marbles in the playground, or slished someone else's conker, loser pick up the bits. JRC had a memorable fag during a lesson, the cigarette balanced on the edge of a desk top, the smoke curling slowly upwards: 'describe what you can see'. His standards were demanding, sloppy thought not acceptable, careless or idle composition likewise. There were objective standards to be met, and with Clarkie you had a splendid opportunity to attain them.
The catalogue of his involvements, initiatives and achievements outside the classroom was formidable, sufficient to shame many more easy-going colleagues. He brought about the first proper School Library on the classroom side of the Bardwell Road; he started a boys' newspaper, The Lance; he was in charge of 1st Game Cricket and introduced the first tours in the summer holidays - to Kent. He was Master in charge of the Tuckshop; he was a strong proponent of the Optional Activities programme, some later Hispanic scholars taking their first steps in the language with Clarkie, Marcelino Pan y Vino. When living at 42 Park Town - well, Clark Town - a few overspill boarders lived on the top floor. He took over from Chris Jacques (Jacko) writing what was the major article in each term's Draconian, Notes on the Term. In 1966-67, shortly after Inky took over as headmaster he chaired a small Committee, which reviewed - not altogether successfully some argued at the time - the nature of the Curriculum in the light of the recently published Plowden Report on Primary Education.
Amazingly one thing he did not do whilst on the Dragon staff was produce a play. By the time the drama diet extended beyond Gilbert & Sullivan in the autumn and Shakespeare in the summer, with more than one member of staff allowed to produce a play, Clarkie had moved on to Winchester, where he was responsible for some outstanding productions of demanding works ancient and modern.
In private time, what there was of it in those days, John travelled - once in the steps of Thesiger in the Hindu Kush; he painted, mainly in oils; he enjoyed classical music, Beethoven quartets in particular; he read a great deal; cooked interestingly and most competently; gardened to a high standard. He was hugely good company; he had a robust, at times mischievous, sense of humour. He brought sparkle to life at an elevated level to both colleagues and boys.
Then in 1968 he moved to Winchester, teaching English through the College up to the highest level, a house tutor, taking nipper cricket 1st XI, and producing those plays. He retired early from the profession, moving up to East Lothian, not far from Dunbar. There he created the first of two gardens, which soon joined other local ones open to the public. The second was on request at a monastic Retreat further north. In addition he wrote a little and painted a lot, and gradually moved from Anglicanism to the Catholic faith, in which he died. The end was sudden. A matter of fact note with the '06 Christmas card revealed a fell diagnosis, a form of lung cancer resulting from asbestos not tobacco, no cure possible, alleviation of pain intermittent. By early August '07 the sad list of recent prominent former Dragon Staff loss was one significant member longer.
Very many Dragons fortunate enough to coincide with Clarkie will have their special memories and their academic gratitude, will look back and acknowledge how he helped them to grow up, will enjoy a quiet chuckle at a humorous reminiscence. As for many of his former colleagues there will be sadness at his passing and thankfulness for his widespread generosity.
Written by Dougie Dalrymple