1983 will be remembered as the year that much loved former Headmaster John Eggar died unexpectedly. The impact of his death shook the whole College community. Read the School’s tribute from 1983 below:
"A Very Special Headmaster"
Four years is a long time in a schoolboy's life, but it is a sadly short time between John Eggar's retirement from Shiplake in 1979 and his totally unexpected death in May 1983. All those who read this tribute will in some way or other have gained from his years of dedication, guidance and encouragement at Shiplake College.
The facts of John Eggar's earlier career are easily told. He was educated at Winchester where he was in the 1st Cricket XI for three years and captain during his last season. He was at Trinity College, Oxford from 1935 to 1938 and gained his cricket blue in his final term. He also played against Bradman's Australian touring team that season. His career as a schoolmaster and all-round games player was interrupted by the war. He served in The Rifle Brigade and saw active service in North Africa and Italy. He was an outstandingly successful Housemaster at Repton School until 1963 when he was appointed Headmaster of Shiplake.
He came to us at the height of his powers as a schoolmaster, organiser and energiser of young men. John Eggar always admitted his own personal debt to the famous Winchester Housemaster and cricket coach Harry Altham. At Repton, John Eggar ran the cricket and the CCF, he sat on the Parish Council, managed the school shop, and made a very happy marriage. Indeed, one of the things Shiplake lacked until the Eggars arrived was a family life at the centre of the school. One way of giving everyone an idea of John Eggar's achievement in taking over a small school in 1963 and building it up to its present size is to go around the school grounds as they were 20 years ago. There was only one tennis court and no swimming pool, there was no CCF hut and no armoury. Continuing our tour, there was one laboratory on the Orchard site and that was the only building there! There was no cricket pavilion and only one playing field. Welsh House was still The Vicarage, the Red House (the home of Burr) was still private property. Everett had just been built but it had ten less rooms than now and Court Mead was just a plan. Sixteen years later in 1979 the buildings were very much as you see them now.
During John Eggar's time at Shiplake the numbers increased from 150 to over 300. Two new Houses - Welsh and Orchard - were opened. The boat club was gradually built up to its present strength. New subjects were added to the curriculum. All these achievements were the results of John Eggar's determination to get the maximum of results with the minimum of fuss. As the headmaster of a new school, John Eggar was bound to be more busy than most Heads. He was busy in a way that was especially his. He wrote lively letters and believed in prompt answers, he taught actively and corrected work quickly. Not a moment was wasted if he wanted to raise a point with a colleague. He kept an eye on notices and was quick to congratulate a junior on gaining his Colts colours or getting into something as low as a 'C' crew. If you were in charge of a special job you got a 'thank you note' almost before the job was complete! He grudged the time spent at meetings or conferences away from Shiplake. He could have made a contribution to the wider world of headmastering, but he chose not to do so. His success was due to giving plenty of time to the little things as well as the big ones. One almost felt John Eggar used his spare time in the service of the school. When he was gardening he was probably making plans anticipating the needs of the week after next, or getting himself fresh to meet the next group of parents. He rarely postponed decisions but was always willing to admit he was wrong and reconsider something that he had decided to do.
John Eggar had a good sense of humour and he possessed a marvellous fund of cricket stories. These should have surely been written down and preserved but, sadly, this did not happen. How John Eggar found time to visit his own family at school, sit on the Shiplake Parish Council and be Chairman of the local branch of The British Legion one could hardly fathom. Socially he was very good company and he and Pam Eggar were much sought after guests. Even so, he regarded personal pleasure as a means of re-charging his batteries for returning to duty.
Tributes paid to John Eggar in recent months have been many and various. The Times and The Daily Telegraph emphasised his ability as a first class cricketer and his success as a headmaster. At his funeral, we were reminded of his strong sense of Christian purpose. At the Old Vikings memorial service Mr. Frank Fisher - till recently Master of Wellington College - reminded us of John Eggar's many virtues and of his devotion to his family, to Brook House, Repton, and to Shiplake College. In his years as Headmaster, John Eggar never changed, he remained, energetic, far seeing, helpful and dedicated, he had no intention of winding down even in his final year as Headmaster. Instead of winding down, he built a Sports Hall. It was no fault of his that it was not complete until the term after he left! Perhaps the only way he changed was to develop a greater interest in rowing. Even so, he spent many happy hours on the cricket field at Shiplake, coaching, playing, watching and advising. To him, cricket was a recreation but schoolmastering was an all absorbing occupation. What John Eggar meant to people can best be understood from the many tributes paid to him by parents and old boys. Very few parents have regretted sending their sons to Shiplake and remarkably few young men have regretted being here. "I respected him highly and appreciated his constant help and encouragement". "He took immense interest in all of us and he did a great deal for me personally". A former captain of cricket writes: "He did not try to mould my character directly but gave me confidence by his constant friendly interest and thus became a good friend". Another writes: "I have thankful memories of him pushing me into a standard of effort that I had previously felt incapable of". A former School Prefect writes: "He was paid the greatest tribute on the day he left when one of those who had frequently been up to the Headmaster's study for the wrong reasons said 'that he honestly believed that Mr. Eggar was a good Headmaster and everyone was sorry to see that he was leaving'". The common reaction from old boys to the death of Mr. Eggar is to remember with gratitude the real interest that he took in all of them.
Parents found John Eggar's sympathy and humanity his most attractive features. He was particularly helpful in giving confidence to boys who were disappointed by their 'Common Entrance' achievements and he earned the abiding gratitude of many parents who felt let down by other schools. Parents felt they and their sons were always welcome. John Eggar went to great trouble to assist the parents of a boy who had won a music scholarship to a public school and then lost it because his Common Entrance results were not good enough. Shiplake came to the rescue and awarded this young man a music scholarship. As the still grateful parents wrote recently: "John Eggar never knew what his confidence in him did for our son, but we know and will always be grateful". If John Eggar ever felt that he had been fortunate in his own school, in his upbringing and in his opportunities, he more than repaid his debts in his years of service to others, especially to young people. He was somewhat surprised at the extent of the standing ovation he was accorded at his final Speech Day. He would, being essentially a modest man, never admit to pride in what he had achieved. Occasionally his eyes would tell you of his quiet satisfaction in the progress being made around him. It is too early to look for a final verdict on John Eggar's achievements as Headmaster of Shiplake College, but it is quite certain that what he achieved will stand the test of time.
Also in 1983:
- After the success of the 1979 trip, the first annual summer expedition to the Himalayas took place, consisting of an 18 day trek.
- There was a memorable production of ‘Chips With Everything’ in October.
- During the winter nearly forty swans took up residence on the river between the College landing stage and the island.
- The first VIII again reached the semi-final of the Princess Elizabeth Cup at Henley Royal Regatta. Two of its members were in the Great Britain IV at the world rowing championships in August - this crew won the silver medal and their performance was described as the best ever by a British junior crew at the world championships.
- The College received its best O Level Results for 10 years.