Richard William Sheppard was born on the 1st January 1944. He died on the 17th October 2022 aged 78.
Richard was the son of Percy and Beryl Sheppard and grew up in Sefton Villas on the edge of the school playing field. His father Percy (known to the boys as Basil or Bas) was for many years a master at the school teaching German, French and Russian. Richard entered the prep in 1950 and the main school in 1954. He rose to eminence reaching the highest rank in the RAF section of the corps and became a school praepostor and was head of school from 1961 to1962. He was an enlightened head of school and suggested a number of improvements to the then headmaster Ralph Allison (Chas to our generation) most of which Chas accepted.
He was not a sportsman but joined the Scout troop and played character parts in school theatricals being a notable straw-chewing William in As You Like It. In 1962 the head of school play was Romanoff and Juliet in which Richard played the General and much hilarity was had by all involved. Richard left the school in 1962 and went up to Queens’ College Cambridge which had been his father’s old college but which Richard heartily disliked.
After leaving Cambridge Richard spent a year in Oxford obtaining a teaching qualification and was destined to become a schoolmaster. He then taught for a year in a Secondary Modern school where he found that many clever pupils were held back by poor teaching and not by lack of talent. Throughout his life he often expressed frustration that good students should be so held back and he was determined to do what he could to remedy that. His father suggested he apply for a post at the University of East Anglia in Norwich and he obtained a lectureship there and later his doctorate. In due course he was made a Professor.
In 1987 he moved to Oxford where he became a Fellow of Magdalen College teaching German language and literature. His research interests were in the historical avant-gardes and politics in the Weimar Republic. A renowned scholar of German literary modernism he was also literary executor of his friend and former colleague W.G. Sebald. With a quick and caustic wit he was much admired and loved by his students many of whom have described him as inspirational.
He married first Miranda by whom he had two children. That marriage was dissolved and he then married Carolyn. He and Carolyn lived for many years in Oxford until Richard retired and they then moved to live in a hilltop hamlet in the Auvergne where they remained until Richard died. He continued to research and write. A principal interest was editing Magdalen College students’ letters from the First World War and working with Dr David Roberts to create The Slow Dusk, an extensive website dedicated to members of the College who fought and died in that war.
In 1963 six of we OBs spent the summer vacation from university driving to Greece in an old van. Richard loved that trip and often talked about it. Only last year he compiled a booklet about the trip including photographs and a synopsis of our adventures taken from an old diary. It was typical of him that he compiled it with as much care and attention to detail as in his serious academic works. It was his last literary output.
I am grateful to Carolyn Sheppard and Colin Reid (OB 1951-61) for their help in compiling this obituary.
Rodger Smith (OB 1954-62)