‘It was love at first sight. In that moment I knew I would marry him’
- Credit: Archant
Obituary: Bungay Grammar School boy Ray Woodhouse became a ‘brilliant’ teacher and an Ofsted inspector. He believed young people deserved the best education
The winter of early 1963 was notable for bitter snowy days that never seemed to end. For Ray Woodhouse and wife-to-be Maureen, it also brought the blind date that changed their lives forever.
February 4, 1963, it was. “I only went on that blind date to please my friend,” admits Maureen.
She explains: “I was born in Cornwall and grew up there. I went to teachers’ training college in Kingston upon Thames. My room-mate happened to meet a chap I knew in Falmouth, who said to her ‘Let’s go to a party next week. Bring Maureen and I will bring my mate Ray.’
“It was freezing cold, snow on the pavements, and I had those ‘winkle picker’ shoes with really high heels. It was love at first sight. In that moment I knew I would marry him. It was the same for him too.
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“He was so stunningly good-looking, very funny and chatty, and a good dancer, and obviously going places. And I was going his way, no matter what!
“We danced at the party, had a snowball fight in the garden and played cards, and he won two shillings and sixpence from me – and took it!” They married at St Gluvias church in Penryn, Cornwall, in the summer of 1965.
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Pupil of promise
Ray and brother Alan were born in Harleston, Norfolk. Their supportive and loving parents, Shelah and Claude, ran Baxters butcher’s shop in the town for many years.
Ray disliked Saturday mornings. He spent them avoiding the local dog population as he delivered meat on his bicycle!
He went to Harleston primary school and Bungay Grammar. Maureen says he excelled.
She’s got an interesting cutting from a Harleston newspaper or newsletter, written in 1959 when her husband was 18. He was one of three local lads who had passed their higher examinations and were bound for university.
Columnist “Harlestonian” said their success “emphasises the vast changes which have taken place in our educational system in post-war years. Gone, happily, are the days when parents of humble birth had to sacrifice perhaps their life’s savings to enable a bright member of the family to reach the standard of education needed to obtain a top post in the industrial or commercial worlds.
“Successive governments have rightly realised the desirability of providing grants large enough to enable youngsters from cottage homes to study side by side with those from ‘stately’ residences.”
Ray went on to study physics, chemistry and PE at the College of St Mark and St John, then based in Chelsea. For a career, he was drawn not to those “industrial or commercial worlds” but the classroom.
Maureen says: “He was a brilliant teacher, teaching at Hounslow Grammar School, The Oratory School in Woodcote (near Reading), Mills Grammar School in Framlingham (Suffolk), and Wadebridge School, Pool School and Camborne School (all in Cornwall).”
(Ray applied for the Woodcote post “because we were newly married and it had a house with the job: a beautiful thatched chocolate box cottage”.)
Ray was deputy headteacher at Pool and Camborne. His later career saw him working at County Hall in Cornwall as an education officer; in Brisbane Education Office in Australia; and as an Ofsted inspector.
“He won national acclaim for his work on school management, and for this he was honoured at a garden party at Buckingham Palace,” says Maureen.
“All his life he believed that young people deserved the best education, and was much respected by pupils, parents and colleagues.”
He took risks
Maureen was the love of his life. “He was a ‘family man’ who adored his two daughters (Sarah and Janet) and his grandchildren (James, Molly, Grace and Joe), and was proud of their achievements.”
Ray and Maureen travelled the world and he was never happier than when he had a plane ticket in his pocket.
“So many of the cards and letters the family have received over the past weeks have spoken of his integrity. He is remembered as a man of his word,” says Maureen. “He loved a challenge and took risks.”
When the girls were teenagers, for instance, the couple sold their neat and perfect bungalow and bought a rickety smallholding in Mithian (a village in Cornwall).
Sarah and Janet explained at the funeral: “Dad enthusiastically took on the 26 acres where we kept chickens, reared calves and cut our own hay. It had no mains water and was completely dilapidated… he set about restoring the house and the garden and it became an idyllic home.”
Maureen says: “He was a very enthusiastic gardener and had a great love of nature, particularly birds – he could name them just by hearing their song.
“Music was one of his passions. He sang in the Harleston church choir as a boy, and ‘returned to the fold’ to sing in Kenwyn church choir (Cornwall).
“Ray wrote about his Harleston choir days with great affection and he told this story: ‘It is with much gratitude that I look back on my choir days under the guidance of Archie Brown, our choirmaster. I remember one very cold evening after choir practice. No snow when we went in… but joy! oh joy! Six inches when we emerged. A great snowball fight followed but nobody dared to throw one at Archie as he cycled home!’”
Sarah and Janet had an anecdote about their father’s love of music.
“When Mum and Dad visited the Victoria Falls, they found themselves in front of the waterfall all alone. He sang the hymn ‘O Lord my God, When I in Awesome Wonder’ to Mum, word- and note-perfect.”
Dad was exciting
Sport was another passion. “He excelled,” say his daughters. “He was the captain of his school and college football and cricket teams.” Ray also played for Harleston teams in both sports.
“His skill with a ball remained with him until very recently. We remember a game of non-stop cricket with fellow holiday-makers just a few years ago. No-one could get Dad out, until he began hitting the ball intentionally high into the air.
“Then, while Dad was fielding, he seemed completely absorbed in extracting his Parkinson’s pill from his pocket. But he surprised everyone when he reached out with his left hand and caught a ball heading for the boundary at high speed.
“One of the teenagers we were playing with said ‘I don’t know what’s in those pills you are taking, but I wouldn’t mind some!’
“Growing up with our Dad was exciting. He always had time for trips out. We enjoyed skiing holidays and went travelling across Europe (back in the 1970s that was a real adventure). Most importantly, whatever we did, it was great fun.
“Playing games was thrilling with Dad. Our cousins remember him as a champion Mousie-Mousie player. There was a terrifying tag game called Wolfie Wolfie, usually played on darkening summer evenings. Children clamoured for ‘Uncle Ray’ to play this when they visited.
“Once, he and our uncle Alan played cricket with us, which involved hitting the ball right over the roof of our house, from the front to the back garden.
“He needed no persuading to play cards, Monopoly or Ludo with his grandchildren. Mind you, he never let them win if he could help it!
“Family outings often involved long walks and he enticed us to keep going by saying there might be an ice cream van round the next bend. Often it had long departed by the time we had got to the destination, though.”
Patient, honest, loving
After retiring from his Ofsted work in 2010 Ray was proud to be a member of the Rotary Club of Truro and believed passionately in the charitable causes Rotary supports. He was also a member of the Probus Club and a local bridge club.
“When he moved to Cornwall, he became a committed football referee and played a mean game of snooker and table tennis,” says Maureen. “He loved his home county of Norfolk and was an avid lifelong supporter of Norwich City.
“His strength of character really shone through in his later years. He developed Parkinson’s and even went to Bristol for a very risky operation: deep brain stimulation.
“He never complained about his illness, and kept on struggling to be active and live life to the full, even when this was very difficult.”
Ray died peacefully at the Royal Cornwall Hospital, aged 77. Kenwyn Church was packed for his funeral service, and donations to Parkinson’s UK so far total more than £2,300.
Ray’s daughters say: “We remember a wonderful family man who loved our Mum, and us, without reservation. He shared this same love with his grandchildren.
“He supported us, challenged us when we needed it, and shared in our achievements and disappointments. He was always the same: patient, honest, loving, compassionate, entirely trustworthy and with a deep integrity.”