Stuart Burtt joined Wycliffe in the Prep School in 1941 and left Wards House in 1950. He was a Prefect, Head of Wards House and was also Captain of Athletics.
Stuart’s power of attorney notified us of his sad death in September 2018 and kindly let us have a copy of the eulogy from Stuart’s funeral.
Eulogy delivered by Mr Simon Coli:
We have had many tributes to Stuart over the last month. This eulogy owes a lot to their kind words and reminiscences.
Stuart was born in 1932 at Tamworth in Arden. His father Howard Fox Burtt, a GP, had served in the Friends Ambulance Unit in the Great War for which he had been decorated by the French government, and his mother Ann Finlay had been a Matron in an Edinburgh hospital. Photographs show him with his father, often outdoors, climbing gates and fences and playing with him and they were clearly very close. Sometimes he is in the care of a maid or governess, sometimes with both his parents. He enjoyed his rural home life until as was usual in those days he was sent to boarding school and when he was away at school aged 10, his father died. As was common then his father’s illness had been kept secret; Stuart was told of his father’s death by his headmaster and did not attend the funeral. Unsurprisingly he carried this early loss with him for the rest of his life and preferred to spend his teaching career in the state sector.
He was called up for National Service – and here we see a contradiction. Stuart did not use his Quaker background, of which he was always proud, to avoid National Service. He applied to work in Bomb Disposal but instead the army sent him on active service in Korea, where he said he became used to seeing friends killed and in pieces. He rarely talked about his Korean experience, only once in the 36 years I knew him. In his second year in the Army he was placed in an administrative role in Japan which developed his natural ability for organisation, management and the details of administration.
Unsurprisingly by the time he got to University Stuart was determined to enjoy himself and lead a full life. When he went to Caius he really began his adult life as he meant to continue. He took on responsibilities such as President of Geographical Society, socialised, enjoyed his sport and even did some studying. Although, graduating with a 3rd he would reflect that perhaps he enjoyed himself a little too much.
Stuart always loved being outdoors and active. At school he enjoyed sports especially climbing. One photograph shows him at 16, ropes over his shoulder ready to go climbing with a friend; and not a risk assessment in sight. Actually, one of his bug-bears during the later years of his teaching career was the over-zealous use of risk assessment. His experience as a school boy and younger teacher was that good planning and common sense were more than adequate; if someone wanted to break the rules, defy instructions, well tough if they got hurt. They wouldn’t do it again. This is not to say he took unnecessary risks or put others at risk; rather he felt that if someone wants to undertake a high-risk sport they should be ready to take responsibility for themselves and their companions. He found the ever-increasing restrictions on what teachers could do with pupils and students, particularly aggravating.
But back to the outdoors. Stuart climbed, skied, potholed, did fell and cross country running, took groups on the Lyke Wake Walk. He bought himself a Lune Pilot Boat which he named Parsnip and sailed on Rutland Water. He cycled and loved ice-skating in the Fens when the opportunity arose. At university he was elected to an elite athlete’s society as an accomplished cross-country runner, and he was a very enthusiastic member of the Cambridge Beagles hunt (where the hounds are followed on foot). His room-mate at Caius recalls him coming back to college mud spattered, red faced and exhausted. He also enjoyed cars – his favourites probably being the Morgans he had for several years before selling the last one at a profit when he retired aged 57 in 1989.
His life-long passion for Botany kept him outdoors too; in his garden as well as around Rutland. He undertook a long-term study of Bloody Oaks Quarry in the east of the county and cycled around studying the wayside verges looking for and finding rare plants and, if I recall correctly, orchids. Naturally he recorded all this in detail in an illustrated booklet and kept his friends updated on his findings. He applied the same interest to his garden, building a collection of native geraniums there. Sadly, much of the collection has not survived the years of his decline.
In many ways Stuart was a frustrated arts and crafts man. He learnt woodwork at school but his patience and eye for detail were innate characteristics. He enjoyed learning new skills and his home has examples of: his careful woodwork, French polishing, items converted to a different use, curtains made on a hand driven sewing machine (I am told it is no mean feat using one of those) whilst he knelt on the floor to make sure the material was spread out adequately for machining. He believed in make do and mend. He would remove cuffs from new shirts and shorten the sleeves to get the fit he wanted. And, of course, he did his own decorating- white everywhere except for the British Racing car green on his doors.
One advantage of having Stuart as friend was that he’d learned Cordon bleu cooking at evening classes when he lived near Brigg. Why? Because he enjoyed good food and the most economical way to enjoy it was to learn how to cook it; friends and colleagues in Brigg and Rutland all benefitted. His house was a frequent venue for parties, dinner parties and post-pub’ suppers. One friend who cannot be here today recalls him saying “I think another splash of Chateaneuf wouldn’t go amiss!” as he poured half a bottle into the stewpot! ‘Ample refreshments’ were his hallmark. Good food was always plentiful and liberally topping up glasses made him rather dangerous as host.
Quite how he found the time to work is at times a wonder; especially when you consider that until he was in his fifties he also had the care of an elderly and for the last three years of her life hospitalised widowed mother. But· he did; two careers – Teaching and then the Voluntary sector where he met the people here in one way or another. All of which illustrates what he could do, but what of Stuart the person we will remember”? In many ways this should be the longest part of the Eulogy but people from all parts of his life have told the exact same tale.
Whether you were a friend, neighbour, student or colleague he had time, encouragement and support to give. He had a very strong sense of community. He applied his energy and skills to each part of his life; work, friendships, the local community, his neighbours and his careers. He did this with pleasure and genuine interest but never made much of a fuss about it. He was not artificially modest but did not seek public demonstrations of thanks or recognition. If anyone deserved an honour for services to his community it was Stuart, but he would have been horrified by the idea.
He was a good judge of character and encouraged difficult students even when other teachers lost patience with them. The sketch at the back of your order of service illustrates this nicely. It was confiscated from a girl at Brigg who should have been taking notes in his class, not sketching her teacher. He didn’t just confiscate it, he kept it, allowed it to be published in the school magazine and in later years bought art work from her. In another case a Rutland parent has written to say that “we always felt that life could have turned out very differently for our son had he not had Stuart to guide him, support him and believe in him. He now travels the world as a film director pursuing all the madcap adventures he tried to create in those early days!”
He was also very determined. When told the Post graduate teaching certificate course in Exeter was full he found a school to do teaching practices and turned up anyway so they had to take him on. His passion for fairness and the worth of every individual came to the fore when as Secretary for the CAB he was told who to invite for a royal visit. It seems local dignitaries and worthies are supposed to take precedence over the people who do the work. He arranged matters as he saw fit, ensuring that the people who deserved it were involved and not left out.
Stuart was a private man who loved to socialise but chose to spend a lot of his time on his own, a Christian in action but an agnostic in belief for whom the threads of his Quaker background wove their way through his life. A man whose life held some contradictions but who touched the lives of many. He kept the different parts of his life very separate. For example, though we had heard about his goddaughter Rosie for many years we didn’t meet her until our paths crossed during the last few months of Stuart’s life.
For this funeral it was fortunate that we found an old address book and equally fortunate that a good number of people in it had not moved house! All who could responded and, said how Stuart had touched their lives.