Suffolk: Graham Boatfield, founding principal of Otley College, dies aged 92
PUBLISHED: 06:00 26 April 2014
Tributes have been paid to the “larger than life” founding principal of Otley College, who has died aged 92.
Graham Boatfield, who became principal in 1960 and remained in the post for 26 years, was a man of action and a keen supporter of farming in Suffolk.
Before he retired from his post in 1986, he told students and guests at a prizegiving ceremony that action meant more than promises, and advised them not to wait for someone else to do something if they could do it themselves.
“When I first came to East Suffolk I was told that the county had no money and that we could not expect to make much progress,” he said.
“However, by one means and another, we seemed to find buildings, staff, a farm and even some money.
“When Suffolk County Council took over from East and West Suffolk, we heard the same story nearly every year, and yet have kept growing.
“If we were doing it all over again, we might do it differently, but what we have here at Otley is a combination of what we have been given and what we have provided for ourselves.”
He also quoted from English journalist and politician William Cobbett, who said in the 1800s of Suffolk: “Suffolk is the crack county in England. It is the best cultivated, most ably, most carefully and the most skilfully, of any piece of land in the world.”
Alex Ferguson, who succeeded Mr Boatfield as principal in 1986, described him as “extraordinary”.
“I knew Graham when I was a lecturer going way back. He was always a livewire, a larger than life fellow and a man with extraordinary talents. I believe he even wrote a jazz column for a local newspaper,” he said.
“He was active in the community and very well known. I took over from him. He seemed reluctant to retire. He used to come into the college a lot to make sure everything was OK. He will be sadly missed.”
John Pearson, another former principal of what is now the Otley campus of Easton and Otley College, and who was head of horticulture at the college during Mr Boatfield’s time as principal, said: “Graham worked tirelessly to establish agricultural education first in East Suffolk and then in the county as a whole.”
“He had the foresight to move from the Witnesham primary school site to Otley, on land previously owned by the Felix Cobbold Trust, and formed a partnership with the trust which enabled many agricultural students to benefit not only from practical skills taught but also to understand the working and management of a well-run arable farm with a livestock enterprise.”
“Graham had a wide range of interests including jazz, gardening clubs and societies and wrote a number of practical books on agriculture.”
“He was very supportive to me in the 1970s when establishing horticultural education. Together we were able to build and shape what is now the Otley campus of Easton and Otley College.”
The current principal of Easton and Otley College, David Lawrence, said: “We were saddened to hear of the recent passing of the first ever principal of the college. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family.
“Mr Boatfield clearly had a passion for farming and education and we very much share that passion today. He helped the college evolve by introducing other subjects to the curriculum such as floristry and horticulture and he was instrumental in creating a tremendously positive impact on education in this region that we are determined to maintain.”
Robert Black, a former chair of governors at the Otley campus up until 2006, also praised Mr Boatfield’s contribution.
“Graham gave so much and was instrumental in progressing agricultural education in this region,” he said.
Easton and Otley College staff member Sally Hollingsworth, who was a student of the college towards the end of Mr Boatfield’s tenure in the 1980s, remembered him as “a really nice gentleman”.
“I remember that he always used to attend our open weekends and he used to man a rare breeds stand. He was friendly and always had time for you,” she said.
College maintenance technician Will Steele, who worked under Mr Boatfield. recalled that he was very knowledgeable.
“Mr Boatfield was a very learned man. You could talk to him about most topics and he always had knowledge of the subject and an opinion,” he said.
Mr Boatfield was an agricultural lecturer for Herefordshire County Council before accepting the post of agricultural education organiser for East Suffolk in 1954. Day release classes were run in Ipswich, Halesworth, Lowestoft, Bury St Edmunds, and Diss.
The East Suffolk Agricultural Education Centre was opened in 1960 at Witnesham, and, 10 years later, on July 4, 1970, Otley College was launched, with Mr Boatfield as principal.
Mr Boatfield’s son, Martin, recalls how one of the first emblems of the college came about. “His friend, Rintoul Booth, the agricultural editor of the EADT, was also an artist, making models of animals using pipe cleaners sprayed black (I have one of these), and the two men came up with the idea of a three-quarter life-sized model, fashioned in steel, of a bull from the Sutton Hoo herd, and this was erected in pride of place outside the main entrance to the college in 1976. An image of the bull was used on college publicity for many years,” he said.
“Having been one of the founder members of the East Anglia Support Group of the Rare Breeds Survival Trust, dad reluctantly retired in 1986, aged 65, to concentrate on his own collection of rare breed sheep.
“He was a writer, turning out a series of farming books from 1963 onwards, and later editions are still available for purchase and library loan. He also wrote jazz record reviews for the publication Jazz Journal, and broadcast on the subject of jazz. He also wrote about jazz for the EADT under the name George Garland.
“He had a long love of sailing, and participated eagerly in the activities of The Sealed Knot, the Civil War re-enactment group, riding out in full uniform, with his friend Rintoul Booth,” he added.
Mr Boatfield’s first wife, Joan, died in 2000, and his second wife, Elsie, died in 2011. The Boatfield line goes on; as well as his three sons, there are seven grandchildren, eight great-grandsons, and one great-granddaughter.
Mr Boatfield’s funeral was held in Kent on April 24.
The Otley campus of Easton and Otley College is hoping to name a new agricultural facility in Mr Boatfield’s honour later in the year.