Soham Grammarians - Mr RG Wood BSc (Manchester) Chemistry 1964-72

Gareth Wood died aged 75 on 7th April 2014. Updating of this page will be completed shortly.

From the 1965 School photo

From the 1970 School photo

From the 1972 School photo

Mr Wood can also be seen on some of the recent Annual Dinner pages.

Gareth Wood wrote (2008 and 2002): "Born in Preston in 1938, I lived at Farington, Leyland (where the Motors came from!), Lancashire until I was 12. I went to junior schools in both Farington and then Leyland and then in 1949-50 to Hutton Grammar School, Preston (where Brian Heap, the Careers Adviser, taught - though well after my time).

I moved to Birstall, nr Leeds, Yorkshire in 1950 and became a rabid Lancastrian (Preston North End, Lancashire CCC!). I attended Batley GS 1950-57 which was the school Joseph Priestley ('discoverer' of oxygen) and OW Richardson (inventor of the thermionic valve) also went to - a little before my time!

From there I progressed to Manchester University.

I worked for Johnson, Matthey at Burslem and Kidsgrove (Staffordshire) for 15 months before deciding to teach. Teacher training? - there was a shortage of Science Teachers at the time - they were desperate!

I taught at Burton on Trent GS from January 1962 to August 1964. Here John Mantle, John Dawes, Tom Brophy et al who were all international Rugby players had a teaching stint from Loughborough - the PE teacher at Burton, Vic Roebuck, was a legendary character.

At this point I married and then moved to SGS for September 1964 - we lived in Fordham and have done so ever since. I was a member of the SGS Staff Badminton Club.

Fortunately, I was promoted at various stages and that was often a good enough reason to stay put. In 1972 I was appointed as Head of Science at the City of Ely College at its inception as a Comprehensive School and subsequently was made Deputy Head of the main school (11-16) when Alan Bullock was my immediate superior (he eventually became Principal at Soham Village College).

My Sixth Form teaching in particular kept me sane for much of my teaching career! When Ely merged with Littleport Village College in the eighties I became a Sixth Form Tutor and regained responsibilities for Sixth Form examination entries. I retired from full-time teaching in 1993 though did some supply teaching for three or four years after that (which I quite enjoyed).

All three of our children attended Soham Village College and then came to our Sixth Form at Ely."

Friends of St Peter's Fordham was a voluntary village society run by Gareth Wood and the committee for the benefit of the community of the village of Fordham and its links with Soham - concerts and recitals were regularly staged in both Fordham and Soham bringing not only some excellent music to the area, but also bringing people together to enjoy a variety of music.It no longer exists as a concert promoting organisation - the last concert was in June 2007. It was subsumed into the Church Preservation Trust and its concert activities were no longer Gareth's responsibility.

Soham Grammarian Summer 1965

We offer a belated but sincere welcome to the three masters who joined the Staff last September, when Mr IW Jones took charge of the Mathematics Department, and Mr JR Adkins and Mr RG Wood joined the Science Staff to teach Physics and Chemistry respectively. We are grateful for our good fortune in filling these key posts at a time when Mathematics and Science teachers are in short supply.

Frank Haslam '59' writes: Though he may not recall it Gareth spurred me on to apply to read Chemistry at University College London by telling me it had been one of his choices. He was enthusiastic, patient, had a dry wit and was always encouraging us to do better.

9 Feb 2014 Gareth was Secretary of the James Withers Collection. Withers, born in 1812 in Weston Colville, spent most of his life in Fordham. He was an unschooled poet who came to the attention of Queen Victoria among others. An exhibition commemorating his life’s work has been moved to a new home in St Peter's Church, Fordham.

St Peter & St Mary Magdelene Church, Fordham

A Thanksgiving and
Celebration for the life


Richard Gareth Wood


6th May, 1938 - 7th April, 2014

Funeral Service on
Thursday, April 17th at 10.30am



1 Corinthians 13: Alison & Jackie


God so loved the World
John Stainer 1840-1901
WJ Sparrow Simpson 1859-1952


Eulogy for Dad - Chris Wood

Family Life

The word most often used to describe Gareth, Dad, is generous; Margaret described him as "the kindest brother you could have". Dad was unfailingly generous with his time, whether helping us with our homework often late into the evening, holding extra Chemistry lessons at home for us and friends, or packing the car full with as many as could fit and going out of his way to give children lifts back from after school activities. Whenever we were out with family and friends, you had to race to pay the bill before him, and he usually won!

He was a dedicated father to Jackie, Alison and myself and always took time to support us and take an interest in whatever we did. As a proud grandfather he regularly encouraged Amy, Sam, ZoŽ, Alex and Kate in whatever activities they were involved in and was always keen to talk about their latest interests.

He was devoted to Mum, as much as she was to him, and often praised her practical and emotional support for him.

He had a dry, northern sense of humour and would emulate Eric Morecambe's paper bag trick and do the glasses on the knee joke given half a chance.

Dad always saw the best in everyone and would find the positives in any situation; even when people had clearly been in the wrong, he would say something complimentary about them. He very rarely fell out with people: on one occasion when he had finished a heated debate with someone about arts funding, about which he felt particularly strongly, he turned and apologised to the rest of the people in the office for having raised his voice.


Having completed his Chemistry degree at Manchester University Gareth began working as a Development Chemist for Johnson Matthey in Stoke; however it wasn't the job for him and the final straw came when he wanted to do some research and was refused a request to visit the local library. He turned his hand to teaching Chemistry at Burton on Trent Grammar School and never looked back.

In August 1964 he married Judith and moved to teach at Soham Grammar School, they settled happily in Fordham and he enthusiastically taught Chemistry and became involved in coaching a number of the school teams. He was promoted to Head of Science at Soham and then moved to City of Ely College in the same role in 1972 where he continued, taking on a variety of different responsibilities until he retired in 1993.

Dad was very modest and never thought of himself as doing anything other than what was necessary at school, however compliments from past pupils suggest that he did more than was required and helped many. A couple of instances spring to mind: when we were having a family meal in Cambridge some years ago a past pupil spotted him and Dad was amazed when he insisted on paying for the entire meal. He and Peter Hoskins stayed in touch from then on.

Dad also enjoyed attending the annual Soham Grammar School reunions and was pleased to be asked to speak along with others at the 2012 Dinner. He was genuinely surprised on that evening when Michael Yeomans told him that "his teaching had been inspirational for me and for my choice of chemistry as a career" and he was quietly content to have helped in this way. Gareth enjoyed teaching and it played to his strength as a communicator who loved to talk and, as many of you know, he could tell numerous stories which often took some time!

New skills

Dad was always prepared to have a go and learn new skills. Although he was by no means a natural cook, Dad would turn his hand to making our meals whilst Mum was catching up on her sleep after night duty once he had honed his technique for making proper chips, with a chip pan, Saturday lunch times were always eagerly anticipated. Never worried about eating too healthily he sometimes treated himself to his own style of bacon sandwich, with the bacon "almost burnt" just as he liked it, with fried bread ... and added salt.

Once, on the spur of the moment during a sponsored abseil at the City of Ely College, he abseiled down the four storey main building having never done any abseiling before. It may not have been a classic demonstration of abseiling, as much of it was the wrong way up, however he did it, much to the relief of his spectating family!

After retirement in 1993 he learnt how to use a computer and then more recently, decided to improve his driving skills, passing the Advanced Driving Test.


Dad loved music, particularly classical, and this combined with his organisational skills lead him to organise many concerts, 63 at the last count, most to raise money for this Church. His approach was always to speak directly with people to strive to fill every seat and sell as many raffle tickets as possible. Dad was rightly proud of the high standard of the performances and pleased to see the successes such as for Ian Bostridge, who sang at one concert earlier in his career. One of Dad's claims to fame was that he had both fed and clothed Ian Bostridge who arrived without a dinner jacket, so he borrowed Dad's, and any food for his onward journey, so Dad organised a packed tea! For Dad these concerts were as much about sharing the music he enjoyed with local people, as raising money.

Love of sport

Dad was an enthusiastic follower of sport, with a particular love of cricket, and his "home team" Lancashire as well as a keen follower of the England team. At Batley Grammar School he enjoyed sport and captained the school second eleven cricket team. He had a good knowledge of the game and those with the same interest have remarked that he had forgotten more about cricket than they had known, and that he was well worth listening to for his thoughtful opinions on the game.

Dad told many cricket stories and had fond memories of games that he had watched, including the time when, as a child on the way back from watching the Leyland cricket team, he and his father had sat on the bus and talked with Ken Horton, who played inside forward for Preston North End at the time to Tom Finney's right wing. He was also excited to see Don Bradman's last test match innings at the Oval in 1948, and then disappointed along with everyone else when Bradman was famously out second ball. Australia still went on to win, so perhaps after this last summer times haven't changed that much!

When his nephew, Mike, was picked to play for Gloucestershire he was delighted for him and was proud to watch him play whenever he could. He had some enjoyable days spectating, including a couple at the Cheltenham festival, although when Gloucestershire were playing Lancashire you could never be quite sure which team Dad was supporting.

Dad was a lifelong follower of Preston North End and was always keen to see how they had performed in every match. For Dad there was no football player to beat Tom Finney and he was genuinely moved when Finney died in February of this year. Dad had seen Finney play on a number of occasions, it was not only his playing ability that he admired but his dedication, loyalty and all round decency - characteristics which Dad valued greatly and displayed throughout his life.

Even one of Dad's final wishes demonstrates his logical scientific approach and generous nature - he wished to be cremated, so that he would take up less space.

There is a saying that you should aim to leave the world a better place than you found it and there is no doubt that Gareth, Dad, did this in all aspects of his life.

The following Tennyson poem was read at Gareth's mother, Hilda's funeral and he very much wanted it to be read at his.

Crossing the Bar

Sunset and evening star,
And one clear call for me.
And may there be no moaning of the bar,
When I put out to sea,

But such a tide as moving seems asleep,
Too full for sound and foam,
When that which drew from out the boundless deep
Turns again home.

Twilight and evening bell,
And after that the dark:
And may there be no sadness of farewell,
When I embark;

For tho' from out our bourne of Time and Place
The flood may bear me far,
I hope to see my Pilot face to face,
When I have crost the bar.

Gareth in New Zealand, March 2013

Looking out on Lake Tekapo, March 2013


Jesus shall reign where e'er the sun
Isaac Watts 1674-1748
Rimington: F Duckworth 1862


Charles Dibdin 1745-1814
Sir Henry Wood (1869-1944): from Fantasia on British Sea Songs

Sung by Rev'd Mike Banyard.

Here a sheer hulk, lies poor Tom Bowling
The darling of our crew;
No more he'll hear the tempest howling
For death has broached him to.
His form was of the manliest beauty, his heart was kind and soft;
Faithful below, Tom did his duty
And now he's gone aloft
And now he's gone aloft

Tom never from his word departed
His virtues were so rare:
His friends were many and true hearted
His poll was kind and fair;
And then he'd sing so blithe and jolly
Ah! many's the time and oft;
But mirth is turn'd to melancholy
For Tom is gone aloft
For Tom is gone aloft

Yet shall poor Tom find pleasant weather
When he who all commands
Shall give, to call life's crew together
The word to pipe all hands:
Thus death, who kings and tars despatches
In vain Tom's life hath doff'd
For tho' his body's under hatches
His soul is gone aloft
His soul is gone aloft


The Lord's my shepherd, I'll not want
Scottish Psalter 1650
David Grant 1833-1893


The Rev'd Mike Banyard:

I first met Gareth when he, together with a group of teachers from Soham Grammar School, was appointed to teach at the newly opened City of Ely College in the early seventies. It was a challenging time for everyone; Gareth not only rose to this challenge (many of the teachers who came from Soham found they had to teach girls, as Ely had housed the Girls Grammar School [Ely High School], Soham the boys), but very quickly established himself as the superb teacher he was stretching and inspiring the very brightest students, but also encouraging those who found academic work a trial. All were equally important to him. His patience, attention to detail, and assiduous professionalism marked Gareth out not only as an outstanding teacher, but also as a good man, a gentle man. I shall long remember him turning out at Ely in football gear for the Staff versus Pupils football match, his skills in particular put to very good use. I am not sure who used to win, but it was often a hard fought match, the wily skills of the older staff, being more than matched by the youth and energy of the students.

It was a particular delight for me personally to be asked to come back after ordination to the parishes here, and find that many old friends and colleagues were still here. Especially Gareth and John Abbott too in Fordham, and to have so many others near; the support of so many of you from those days is greatly heartening for Judith and all the family. Thank you.

So renewing friendship here was special for me as well. And then to find that Gareth was still organising concerts at Fordham, not only raising money and much needed funds, which they did, but also growing the cultural life of the village and the surrounding villages and towns too. I shan't forget Gareth managing to fill the church here for a performance of Handel's Messiah and my gentle teasing that at least he managed to fill the church, a feat the clergy could not match. He wouldn't have any of it, always deflecting any praise. Trying to get him to accept a thank you present when he finally stepped down was almost impossible, though we did manage to pay for his ticket to an evening concert at Audley End. He insisted on paying for Judith's. That was one of the hallmarks of the man. Self effacing, with a humility which is always an example. So when he decided to run some final concerts, knowing that he was not well and the cancer had returned with a vengeance, we all had some sticky days. They will serve as a tremendous memorial to him and all he did, with Judith's great support too. Gareth would want me to 'plug' the concerts at every opportunity, so: They are on 17/18 May and will celebrate the Withers Collection, seen here at the back of church, another of Gareth's passions. His determination to have this work displayed in public kept him going I am sure and the opening event was very well supported. It is another memory which we will all treasure.

It is difficult in so few words, and so short a time to recall all that he did; that he made a difference to so many lives is a complete understatement. You will all have your striking memories; treasure them and hold them in your hearts. That he will be remembered with tremendous affection, and held in the highest esteem for years to come is a lasting tribute to his own contribution both to education, to cultural life and that dedication to his family which we heard about so movingly earlier.

And it was indicative of his eye and concern for detail which led him to discuss today's service both with me and with the family in these past few weeks. He wanted the final hymn to be joyful, and it is; he wanted music to feature. He asked for that specific tune to Jesus shall reign, which had us all hunting high and low; we found it, and I am sure we will use it again. Gareth kept the faith through his scientist's eyes, and we talked often of what it all might mean. Probing, questioning, testing were in his make up too.

So today is very hard, especially for those of us who knew him well, but most of all for the family, for Judith, Jackie, Alison and Chris, their partners, the grandchildren on whom he doted, and sister Margaret and Hugh too. Gareth chose the Corinthians reading because it is all about love; here was a man who loved, who understood what real love means, whose patience and care were legendary, as was his ability to tell stories which seemed to go on and on; and we listened didn't we, because we knew he loved.

He would want us all to get on with life, to live and love in our turn, to follow his example of great integrity, and dry humour, to be true to ourselves. So support and encourage one another in these difficult days ahead, when you can no longer turn to him, when you miss his presence so much. Re-member. Give thanks. And when we find ourselves weeping, or just sorrowful, remember that tears are signs of love.

We loved you in life Gareth, and now, we love you still.



The Lord's Prayer


Lord the Light of Your Love is shining
Graham Kendrick b 1950




At the West Suffolk Crematorium, Risby.


All are invited to the Bowls Club after the service here in Fordham where there will be a Condolence Book for everyone to sign.
The family will join you there when they return from Risby.

Donations in Gareth's memory to either the Ely District Nurses, or Arthur Rank Hospice or the Staploe Medical Fund may be left after the service or sent to CE Fuller & Co, 23 Hall Street, Soham, Ely, Cambs., CB7 5BN

The family would like to thank everyone for their prayers, offers of help and support during Gareth's illness which have been so much appreciated.

Some recollections on the passing of Gareth Wood

Peter Askem, Art & Pottery 54-72: Many thanks for telling me the sad news. We were in Scotland at the time so did not get the news until returning home on Sunday. I have written to Judith. We met up unexpectedly a few weeks ago at Felbrigg Park and had a long chat. Gareth seemed well then. I am so pleased that that happened. We have always been good friends and I admired his devotion to teaching . He was always so helpful to me.

Richard Formby SG68: My sincere condolences to Mrs Wood and the whole family. Gareth taught me chemistry and I have nice memories of him as a good teacher. I have great respect for him.

Michael Hawes SG69 : I was saddened to hear of Gareth's death. He was a great encouragement to me during my study of sixth form chemistry in the 1970s (at Ely Sixth Form College). He saw teaching as a vocation, and was committed to helping his pupils as much as he possibly could. That made him the best kind of teacher there is. I was pleased to have sat next to him at the SGS reunion event in October last year. He remembered me clearly, and was interested in what I had done after sixth form. The TV series Educating Yorkshire came up in his conversation, and it was apparent that he was as interested as ever in education and young people.

Stephen Martin SG62 : I am sorry to hear of the death of Gareth Wood. He was an excellent teacher and taught me chemistry to O Level. I think he was disappointed that I didn't continue to A Level. I chose to do double maths and physics instead of maths, physics and chemistry. (No one could do four A levels then!) He thought my A level choice would limit my career. I found the extra maths to be of more help than chemistry when I studied civil engineering at university. I am sorry that I never had the opportunity to meet him again in recent years. Please convey my sympathy to his family.

Barry Parr SG62: It was with great sadness to hear of the death of Gareth, fondly remembered as an excellent teacher of Chemistry but also for his steadfast Northern character, his interest in his students and his support for cricket. In recent years I was also pleased to re-meet him when my wife and her choir made an appearance at Fordham church where he obviously played a key role. He was a lovely man.

Chris Royal-Dawson, English 1963-67: I'm sorry to hear that yet another of our number has died. I think I can recall when Gareth joined SGS in 1964, a year after I did. I was grateful that I was no longer the newest boy on the block! Although our subjects were very different, I do have a memory of him being enthusiastic about his teaching, without being a missionary. I also have a half memory, which could well be wrong, that he lived in Ely at that time. I think I would be able to pick him out in the crowd in a school photo! I guess, from your information that his funeral will be in Fordham, that he stayed at the school for all his teaching life. Such patience and tenacity has always been foreign to me.

David Woodroffe SG60: Gareth taught me chemistry in the fifth form in 1965. He recognised that the whole group had dropped behind, and he put on classes during lunch hour which we could choose to attend. Most of the group did attend. He was willing to go that extra mile for us, and he managed to take us with him. I achieved a grade C in GCE Chemistry O-level, when I had expected to fail. I was therefore pleased to grab a short chat with Gareth at the reunion dinner in October 2012. His passion or teaching even then remained un-dimmed.

Michael Yeomans SG60: I was deeply sorry to hear of Gareth's death. I am only glad that I had the chance to meet and speak with him at the SGS reunion dinner in 2012, the first time I had seen him since 1968, my first year at university.

Gareth's love of chemistry and his enthusiastic teaching had a profound impact on me from the first class I took with him after his arrival at SGS, and led me to choose chemistry as my subject at university. Subsequently I took a Ph.D. in chemistry and then joined the pharmaceutical industry, spending seven years at the bench in new drug research and development. I spent most of the rest of my career in pharmaceutical business development, creating partnerships between companies to collaborate on new drug research and development. My chemistry background has been essential for understanding the innovative science which is at the core of such collaborations.

I told Gareth at the reunion dinner in 2012, that his teaching had been inspirational for me and for my choice of chemistry as a career. I truly meant that and thank him for opening my mind to the fascination and beauty of that science.

If you can add memories of Mr Wood or provide further photos of him, please contact the editor.
page last updated 22 Sep 14