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Derek Fry, teacher

Derek Fry with one of his classes
Derek Fry with one of his classes
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Derek Fry was an inspirational teacher who continued to lecture in physics and astronomy at the Grammar School at Leeds until his sudden death, at 77, and whose character was immortalised by a best-selling novelist.

He had for more than 50 years and with undiminished passion and enthusiasm, educated several generations. For the last 18 years he had continued to do so on a voluntary basis, coming into school several times a week.

Born in Kentish Town, London, the eldest of three children, his family moved to Leeds shortly after his birth to escape the war.

He attended Blenheim Secondary Modern School, leaving at 15 to work as a laboratory assistant in the refractory department of the Leeds Fireclay Company. But he had always wanted to teach, and while continuing to hold down a full-time job, studied for his O-levels and A-levels at night school three evenings a week. He started his teacher training aged 24, at James Graham College in Leeds.

His first post was at Greenhill Primary School, Bramley, and during his time there, he was accepted to study for a degree as one of the first students of the Open University. From there he moved to Mirfield Grammar, and following a 20-year career there, joined Leeds Grammar School – now the Grammar School at Leeds – in 1987.

Soon after joining, he introduced GCSE astronomy to the curriculum, which students studied in addition to their core subjects. Currently more than 20 students give up their own time for astronomy lessons and associated study.

In 1981, Sir Patrick Moore nominated him as a Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society and in 1993/4 he was made a Fellow of the Institute of Physics. It was the first time the institute had formally recognised a school teacher in this way.

In 2017 he received the Royal Astronomical Society’s Service to Astronomy Award, donating the prize money to the school library for the purchase of astronomy books.

He also had the distinction of being immortalised in print by his former colleague from Leeds Grammar School, the novelist Joanne Harris. She based the character Guillaume Duplessis in Chocolat on her friend, as well as some elements of Roy Straitley in the novels Gentlemen and Players and Different Class.

He famously eschewed new technology, keeping in touch with many former pupils by letter, so it was ironic that a hashtag in his memory set up by Ms Harris on Twitter attracted so many tributes and anecdotes from ex-pupils, many recalling his refusal to use a calculator in favour of his trusty old slide-rule, and others describing his irrepressible sense of humour, his intelligence, dedication and erudition.

He is survived by his cousins, Barbara and John.