Meeting the Family of John Roberts (JDR)

Last Saturday, Steve, Mark and I had the pleasure of meeting the daughter and grand-daughter of the late John Roberts (JDR) at the School. For Kim (his daughter) it was the first time she had been back for many years, whilst for Tess it was the first time to visit the place that had meant so much to her grand-father, and continued to be such an important part of his life right up until his sad death last year.

It was perhaps fitting that the sun was shining down on a pristine looking cricket pitch, just waiting for John to lead the teams out in his long umpire’s coat. And it was by the newly named Simon Robertson Pavilion that we met.

From the front of the school many buildings were familiar, and Kim pointed out the old staff room in the front of the school. At that time there were circa 50 staff. Today the number is more than 3 times that. We later pass the staff block built around 1980, which in itself became too small. The teacher community was very close and even though John had moved away from Cheshire on retirement, he stayed in touch and remained good friends with many of his colleagues.

We reminisced about the passion of the House Leaders, which was never more evident than in the House Tug of War.

For Tess, as may be the case for current pupils, it is hard to imagine the fancy dress, the coaching and shouting of the staff, to the backdrop of the school cheering on their house during the break.

As Head of Lea House, John was always involved, but equally committed to the school teams he coached.

It was interesting to hear that during the late 60s and 70s staff would bring their children into the school, often to be able to use the sports facilities. As we walked past the recently refurbished swimming pool, Kim told us how she had learnt to swim in the open air pool that preceded the indoor pool. But moving beyond and behind the sports hall, everything was new. Tess asked about the CCF, and Steve explained how it has always been and still is an intrinsic part of the school. It was also amazing that the retiring contingent commander was actually a peer of John for more than 10 years!

Even before reaching the new Reg Dunning Building, we passed the Lonsdale Centre for Performing Arts. John Lonsdale and John Roberts were good friends, the former having lodged with the Roberts in Haslington when he first started at the school. We explained that building was named in recognition of the incredible contribution John Lonsdale had made to the elevation of Performing Arts at Sandbach School. His legacy remains with the school, which sends performances of various kinds to Edinburgh Fringe and around the world.

The tour of the school complete, we share a drink at the Old Hall, a pub very much associated with the school from my day, and still used by the OSA for some events. It was an opportunity to listen to the stories about JDR from both Kim & Tess. Tess recalled that John was not always the most patient art teacher with his grandchildren, which was ironic given the impact he had on the students. Stories of other teachers, Russia trip and even some old boys we remembered. The fact that John kept a diary which told the story of his time at Sandbach and the endearing friendships which lasted until his last breath.

In recent years we have been reminded of the importance of the school to the former pupils and also to their families. The occasion taught us that it has the same significance for many teachers and their families, teachers who gave significant years to the educating and mentoring of pupils at Sandbach School. We trust that the visit and the many tributes paid on the Facebook page, will enrich the memory of JDR for all his family.

Jeff Lewis
Old Sandbachians’ Association