Beech Hall School

Mr Jim Fitz-Gerald

On Friday 5 January 2018, Mr Jim Fitz-Gerald, former Headmaster of Beech Hall School died suddenly in Chester, where he lived with his wife, Jill.

Thank you to Steven Bourne and Babs Woodward (nee Woodcock) for sharing their memories:

"Mr Fitzgerald always had time for his students. I remember clearly almost every Friday night when I was a full-time boarder and that was not away for the weekend, I would ask Mr Fitzgerald if he could supervise game of football in the gym for six of us. We usually had one or two of the same pupils as well who joined us for this and Mr Fitzgerald always Gave up an hour on Friday nights to allow us to do this.

Also occasionally he would be doing the weekend duty and he always used to take us out somewhere for the day sometimes along with Mr Hardwick. Mr Hardwick was very much like Jim also had time for his students and used to take us out where possible at weekends.

Mr Fitzgerald also used to reward good Work and behaviour from boarders tidying duties.
Once month he would allow us to view a TV programme or film during the week with packet of crisps and a drink. Usually Two Ronnies,Tarrant on Tv or similar, and hn e would watch it with us laughing along with us too.

We also got the occasional treat of a Mcdonalds in Macclesfield after a trip.

I remember earning a place in his football team and again he always recognised good actions and behaviour and at same time kept us disciplined and soon brought us back into line if we didn't try.

He was a great man and will never be forgotten by me.

I will be travelling from North yorkshire to be there at his funeral, as I feel he was a big part of my growing up at the school along with his staff at the time.

I feel privileged to have known him."

Steven Bourne

"I’m acutely aware as I sit and write this (and I’ve lost count of which version of this I’m on) that my relationship with Jim is more than most of the ex pupils for reasons that will become clear.

My memories of Jim are inter-twined with memories of the school and dedicated staff that we were lucky enough to have teaching us, and the freedom, independence and options that we had available to us.  Jim’s attitude was that we were well able to both evaluate risk, but also to respect boundaries. Quite simply, if it was out of bounds, we wouldn’t go.

I started Beech Hall on the first day of Jim’s time as head.  My first memory of him was of a large and imposing man (in reality he was neither, but it was a good trait for a head teacher) with a booming voice, that carried easily to the back of the assembly hall, or across a rugby pitch.

The other thing you immediately think of with Jim was the beaming smile that lit up his whole face, and the piercing eyes.  This could be seen whenever we won at rugby (particularly if we beat Terra Nova), his beloved Chelsea won at football, there was some good news to impart in an assembly, or when he spoke of tennis.

The only time I can remember watching TV at Beech Hall was during Wimbledon fortnight, when we would all cram into the TV room (standing room at the back, younger members of the school squeezing through to sit at the front) and Jim adored tennis.

Jim also adored planning a school trip – possibly more than actually going on it.  He had hundreds, possibly thousands of photos of those trips as aide memoirs of what went on.

Each child at Beech Hall was an individual and he knew what made us tick.  I was lucky enough to have him as my English teacher, and at the tender age of 10 I was introduced to Animal Farm, 1984 and The 39 Steps – we weren’t wrapped in cotton wool!  At that young age he got us thinking of metaphor, bias and critical thinking. Skills that I wouldn’t be taught again for several years. The school was held in high regard and he was able to speak headteacher to headteacher about pupils to help get them into public schools.

Jim and Jill were the perfect headmaster and wife of a small boarding prep school where the children needed surrogate parents.  They both cared for us and we were an extended family, and that included the staff, particularly those who lived in. Many a time over the weekend or in the holidays, Jeremy Hardwick could be found in the bungalow rather than in his room above the stable block.

For me Jim was so much more than a head teacher – he was also my best friend’s dad.  School holidays were spent in the bungalow, and my first ‘proper’ holiday abroad was with Jim and Jill (& Jeremy) to Spain.  I was lucky enough to be treated as an extra daughter, and many a Saturday was spent on the ritualistic train down to London to see Chelsea play at Stamford Bridge (or anywhere in the country for that matter) and then onto a show in the West End, which was characteristically organised to the finest detail but seemed to be very off the cuff and spur of the moment.

At 16 I wanted to be a teacher, and so asked Jim if I could spend some time in school.  The answer was a resounding yes and following on from another ex pupil (Duncan Tamblyn from memory) I spent a week shadowing in school to give me a taster.  As so often is the case things don’t always go to plan and I didn’t go into teaching, but, quarter of a century on I’m looking to career change and knowing that at Christmas Jim had been enthusiastic and felt teaching was something that I’d be good at has been important in validating my choice.

I’ve toyed with putting this last comment in, and many a time I’ve hit delete on this particular sentence, but I don’t think it’s over emphasising the importance of Beech Hall in general and Jim in particular to say that Fitzy has shaped the lives of both me and my brother, as well as countless others over the years.  Both in the moral and ethical compass and the high expectations we set ourselves as well as the independence and self belief. These come both from home and from school. The only thing he failed me in was that he never did get round to teaching me how to play bridge…..and he was always adamant that I’d make a great bridge player.  He will be sadly missed by all that knew him, but to paraphrase a cliché, don’t be sad that he’s gone, but smile because he was here."

Babs Woodward (nee Woodcock)