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Boardroom lifers

Karen Thornton meets volunteers who have redefined long service

SOME governors don't seem to know the meaning of "quit".

Earlier this month, The TES featured Dave Swinburn on these pages and asked if he was the longest-serving governor in the country.

Mr Swinburn had retired from the board of New Mills comprehensive in Derbyshire after 39 years service, having pledged to stay put until the school was united on a single site. That took 30 years.

But even he lags behind the service of other governors, according to TES readers.

Jane Wainwright, headteacher of Aylesbury high school in Buckinghamshire, says its first chairwoman - Zena Williams - was appointed while it was still being built, 41 years ago, and had served previously elsewhere. She retired this year, having stood down as chair several years ago.

Harriet Maunsell, chair of governors at St Mary's CoE primary school in Islington, London, says colleague Raymond Turner has just finished after a 48-year stretch dating from 1952.

However, both have been outdone by Lord (John) Brabourne, who last week was enjoying a retirement dinner with headteacher John Speller and other staff after 55 years at Norton Knatchbull grammar school in Kent.

The Ashford boys' school was founded, in 1630, by his ancestor Sir Norton Knatchbull, and the family have maintained links with it ever since. Lord Brabourne became a governor in 1945, after his older brother died in the Second World War, but didn't attend his first governors' meeting until 1947.

He was the first person to be given honorary life membership of the National Association of Governors and Mangers, when he celebrated 50 years in the job five years ago. His son, Michael-John Knatchbull, has now taken his place on the board.

Mr Speller said: "He is a very intelligent, level, supportive chap and, as a governor, whenever he speaks, it's something helpful, constructive, and sensible. We are very fortunate (to have had him as a governor)."

Lord Brabourne, now aged 76, said: "In the early days, being a governor wasn't

really a big commitment. It was a nice little occasion - you met now and then and didn't do much more than approve the things the headteacher wanted done.

"But as time has passed, it's become a very different thing. I gave up being chair (after 40 years) in 199697, and by that time it took a great deal of work."

He added: "I had a lot to do with the activities of the school and took a very great interest in it, and that was my reason for staying on. It has been a tremendous experience for me. I have learned a great deal and met a lot of very nice people as governors. I hope I was able to contribute something."

Lord Brabourne, who is a director of Thames television, produced film and television hits such as Murder on the Orient Express and Death on the Nile.

He survived the 1979 IRA bomb attack that killed his father-in-law, Earl Mountbatten. Lord Brabourne and his wife, the Countess Mountbatten of Burma, were seriously injured, as was their son Tim. Tim's twin, Nicky, died in the tragedy, along with his grandmother the Dowager Lady Brabourne, and Paul Maxwell, a local boy who was helping crew the family's boat during a fishing trip off the west coast of


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