GEORGE Christopher Turner, a former headteacher with some innovative approaches to education and running of schools and who overcame life-threatening illness to enjoy a second career, has died aged 83.
When cancer forced him into premature retirement at 55 and he thought he might not live too long Chris Turner, as he was universally known, set out to enjoy himself as much as possible and fulfil his ambition to travel to Australia and New Zealand.
It also allowed him to “work for fun” as he put it, including becoming unofficial agent to his long-time friend from their days at Durham University the Northamptonshire and England cricketer Frank Tyson, regarded as the quickest-ever fast bowler, who after emigrating to Australia in 1963 coached at a Melbourne school. Mr Turner organised cricket tours to England for his pupils, and his speaking engagements.
As a teacher, Mr Turner was firm and regarded as a disciplinarian, but commanded respect and affection from pupils, parents and fellow teachers, following a philosophy in life that was born out of his own experience of being bullied at school.
In his autobiographical memories written for his son and granddaughter, published privately shortly before he died, he described the bullying as a lesson learnt.
“I tried never to treat anyone like that and the thought has stayed with me throughout my life – both in school and out,” he said. It was that philosophy coupled, he believed, with spending his earliest years in a tough area of Birmingham and living alongside boys at Camp Hill Borstal on the Isle Wight when his father was Chaplain, which sustained him throughout his career and helped him to deal with difficult situations.
Mr Turner was born in the Lozells district of Birmingham where his father was a Church Army Chaplain. He was later ordained as a minister in the Church of England, and the family moved first to a parish in Northampton, then to the Isle of Wight before returning to Northampton with the young Chris being educated at local schools.
At nine he gained a place as a chorister at Magdalen College School, Oxford, before going to Oakham School, and then studying at Bede College, Durham, for his Teacher Training Certificate.
His taught at schools in Northamptonshire and Nottinghamshire and for a time at a National Children’s Home in Northampton.
In 1964 he moved to Leeds and Holy Trinity Church of England Primary School, Cookridge, but promotion saw him become first deputy head of the then new Church School on the Whinmoor estate in 1966, and 18 months later headteacher at St Stephen’s Church of England School, Kirkstall.
But when Leeds Education Authority moved to a three-tier system with the introduction of middle schools he moved again, becoming head in 1974 of St Margaret’s Church of England Primary School, Horsforth, which then came under West Riding Education Authority. He stayed until illness forced him to retire in 1984.
He pioneered progressive educational teaching methods, including ensuring children made a smooth transition from infant to junior school and were prepared for a more formal approach to learning.
St Margaret’s was also one of few schools in the area which in 1982 piloted a scheme targeting children with special needs, and it was the work of staff there which set the standard for schools in Leeds.
For Mr Turner sport ran like a thread through his life, especially cricket. He was a talented cricketer from an early age, playing a good standard of league cricket but, although he had trials with Northamptonshire, never managed to become a professional.
While at Oakham he played for both the school and town first teams, featuring in Wisden for his school. When he moved to Leeds he spent 12 years with Adel Cricket Club.
His coaching skills and knowledge were also in demand in this country, in Australia, and New Zealand where he also helped to set up a cricket museum at Wellington’s Basin Reserve ground.
After enforced retirement, and in between spending months at a time travelling he took part in reading for the Magazine for the Blind, and was a member of the Leeds Hospital Broadcasting Team providing commentary from Test Matches at Headingley.
While still teaching he was chairman of the North West Leeds Teachers’ Association.
Later he was chairman of governors at Ireland Wood Primary School.
He was married in 1959 and divorced in 1985.
Mr Turner is survived by his son Philip, grandsons Harry and Jack, and his friend and partner Margaret.