How many people do you know whose influence on you has lasted more than a decade? After my parents, one name stands out for me – my high school drama teacher, Mike Fry.
Mr Fry was my GCSE and A-level drama teacher at Haydon Bridge High School in Northumberland. After a career in which he transformed hundreds of young lives, he died in a nursing home in Witham on Friday. He died of cancer, having also suffered a stroke.
Those of us who were so deeply fortunate to have been taught by Mr Fry remember his passion for his subject, and his desire, sometimes a desperate driven urge, to see his pupils succeed and achieve their potential. Those who weren’t taught by him remember him too – for the man he was, for his character and his values.
An old school friend said today “I never knew him through drama, but through his amazing ability to walk up and down mountains all day and do fell-runs in the evening, all the while shouting “Well done chaps!””
“A good teacher is like a candle – he consumes himself to light the way for others.” – Anon
There was no front with Mike Fry, no act when he was teaching – he was sincere and generous with his praise, quick too to show when he was feeling black. He had an incredible ability to carry his entire class along with his mood. When he was excited, and inspired, and enthusiastic – which was most of the time – so too were his pupils. He fizzed like a catherine wheel, firing off thoughts and praise in all directions.
“All knowledge is precious whether or not it serves the slightest human use.” – A.E. Housman
As well as an extraordinary teacher, I knew Mr Fry to be a bachelor who professed eyes for only Judi Dench and Maria Callas; a clergyman; a pillar of the community; and a friend to anyone who needed a friend. He was a complex man with simple, admirable values which shone through in all he did. Generosity. Admiration. Humility. Passion. Kindness. Sincerity. Care. He couldn’t even walk to school without stopping to pick up every bit of litter that had been dropped in the street.
Whenever I have seen or heard Alan Bennett’s play The History Boys, I have been tempted to draw parallels between aspects of Bennett’s character Hector, and Mr Fry. He brought scripts and books to life so that his pupils would experience theatre and literature, but moreover he taught us the importance of self-belief, of daring to be passionate, to stand out from the crowd. He taught his pupils to think about what was right, and then to seek it out. Above all, he taught us that life is precious, that we should use whatever gifts we have to the full, and that we must never let life slip through our fingers. Don’t waste a single day. He never did.
Finally, I’m not as prone as I used to be to quoting scripture, but as Mr Fry’s religious conviction was strong, this passage from John 14 seems fitting:
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not be afraid. You heard me say, ‘I am going away, and I am coming back to you.’ If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father, because the Father is greater than I. And now I have told you this before it occurs, so that when it does occur, you may believe.
There will be a Service of Thanksgiving at 11.00 on Saturday 19 September at St. Cuthbert’s church, Haydon Bridge. Tributes are flooding in on Facebook.