John Alfred Eaton Evans. (30 July 1933 - 3 Feb 2021)
John lived life to the full as a husband, family man, committed Christian and distinguished, “old school”, vocational schoolmaster. He was a talented sportsman, an academic and an accomplished musician with an infectious enthusiasm as well as natural ability for these passions.
He was born in Bristol in July 1933 to Jack and Molly Evans and was younger brother to his sister Joy. His early childhood was rudely inconvenienced by German air raids with the family living in Bristol throughout the war. He then enjoyed his time at Bristol Grammar School where he was head boy (and later president of the alumni society) before serving his two years of national service as an officer in the Logistics Corps and reading classics at Worcester College Oxford. He played rugby for Bristol RFC and Oxford University, being unlucky to sustain a career-ending knee injury before the blues match. He won a half blue for fives.
In August 1958 he married his beloved wife Vyvyan and they went on to have three children, Stephen, Hugh and Susie.
After briefly toying with the idea of becoming a concert pianist, he started his long career in education, teaching classics at Blundells School in Devon (1958-63) followed by 18 years at Rugby School (1963-81) where he became housemaster of Kilbracken (1973-81). He then served 12 years as headmaster of Brentwood, a period that involved exceptional challenges relating to the School’s status, structure, admissions policy, buildings and facilities, set in a context of changing social priorities and parental requirements.
At the outset, he was concerned with the ongoing transition from Direct Grant to full independence. Brentwood faced competition for the best pupils from non-fee paying selective grammar schools. The School had to ensure the highest possible academic standards while presenting such all round quality in its facilities and imaginative extra-curricular opportunities that parents would still pay Brentwood’s fees.
John had to contend with the continuing fall in the number of boarders. As a consequence and because of its suitability for office and teaching space, School House was closed down, much to his regret.
He soon found that a substantial programme of building, refurbishment and new facilities---not least for the sciences, technology, art, drama and music---was essential if Brentwood was to keep up with more demanding educational requirements. Individual departments required space, computers and IT facilities while both academic and ancillary staff had to be increased. Admitting girl pupils was a major step in terms of costs, buildings and facilities but John and the Governors took the “courageous” decision to educate girls separately in their own building. The successful integration of girl pupils to enable Brentwood to become a leading co-educational school was one of his proudest achievements.
Funds were raised, partly through appeals and the sale of fringe property. The Courage Hall was opened in 1985. The Preparatory School received “a long overdue facelift” and the Pre-Prep came to fruition in 1994.
John was never happier than when teaching. He explained after his retirement (John and Vyvyan moved to Easton near Wells in Somerset): “A good school is a most exciting and rewarding environment. Children enter at a tender age and leave as adults. This butterfly-like emergence is often wondrous to behold. That is why I so enjoyed teaching 11-year-olds Latin and Upper VIth formers for University general papers. I am old fashioned enough to believe that Heads ought to appear in the classroom.”
John’s Christian faith was always the cornerstone of his life. As a young schoolmaster, he frequently gave up his holidays to support Christian youth camps with the Scripture Union and the Mull Door Trust. He supported many charitable causes and actively encouraged spiritual exploration and worship at Rugby and Brentwood. After his retirement he played an important role as church warden and organist for St Paul’s Church in Easton and also worked for the local villages providing speakers for years of fascinating monthly lectures known as open minds.
He was also proud in retirement to spearhead the fundraising and building project to bring Rugby fives back to Rugby School after fives courts had been removed to make way for the science block. The courts are known as the JAE Evans fives courts.
John touched so many lives and he was always receiving warm letters and emails from the many young (and not so young) students who had benefited from his tutelage over many years. His sense of humour was never far from the surface and those who knew him as a headmaster were often delighted and surprised by his boyish wit.