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Founding father dies

Karen Thornton on an irascible but much-loved figure in school governance.

ONE of the founding fathers of the National Governors' Council has died, aged 87.

Jack Morrish(pictured right) was a familiar figure at NGC meetings long after he gave up the vice-chairmanship of the organisation he helped create.

Although increasingly frail and deaf, he was at last November's annual meeting, where he characteristically still made himself heard. Delegates agreed he should become the organisation's first honorary life president, to recognise his contribution.

Chris Gale, NGC's then chairwoman, described him as "an irascible bloke - but much loved for all that". She added: "Much of my memory of Jack at the outset of my tenure as chair of NGC was of tapping into his vast store of knowledge - especially education finance.

"His eye for detail was acute - nothing missed him - even though he was well into his 80s. But he also had a wicked twinkle and a mischievous sense of humour. I shall miss him hugely - we did not always agree, but he made disagreement a lot more fun."

Susan Marsh, a former executive member of the NGC, said he was a "very loyal friend".

"I couldn't have begun to have had his brains and comprehension. Jack took me under his wing when I was elected at the first AGM in 1995. He taught me an awful lot, and became a personal friend. And if you became his friend, he was your friend for life," she said.

Jack, born in 1915, started his working life as a telephone engineer.

During the Second World War, he was a "Bevan boy", working in the coal mines to support the war effort. In 1954, he became a full-time official of the civil service union.

He had a lifetime interest in politics and was an active Labour party worker. He counted former education minister Stephen Byers among his friends.

He spent many years in local politics, becoming deputy leader of Northamptonshire council and chair of its education committee from 1981 to 1985. He was co-opted back on to the committee (1993-98), after returning from a spell in London as vice-chairman of Hounslow's education committee (1986-90).

Other roles and activities included acting as a census officer; chairing Northamptonshire Child Poverty Action Group; being a governor at the county's Nene college; membership of East Midlands further education council; and sitting on the Burnham committee on teachers' pay.

In the early 1990s, he was at a meeting of AGIT, a governor trainee organisation, which was addressed by the then Conservative education minister Eric Forth. Spurred by his speech, Jack called for people interested in forming a governors' association to contact him. The National Governors' Council was born in 1994.

He served as vice-chairman until 1998, and after retiring to Somerset he represented that county at NGC meetings and was a governor of his local primary school.

Jane Martin, a fellow member of AGIT, said: "My memory is always of the perfect gentleman but with an amazing capacity to master a brief and pay attention to all the detail - his expertise and knowledge always belied his age. His commitment to the cause of public accountability in education was unwavering."

Jack Morrish was probably one of the few people who actually understood standard spending assessments and area cost adjustments. His friends recall him tying the then recently appointed director of schools, David Normington, in knots over school finances, from the floor of NGC's 1998 AGM. Mr Normington is now permanent secretary at the Department for Education and Skills.

Neil Davies, chair of NGC, said: "Jack Morrish was an important figure throughout the life of NGC. Even though I haven't served alongside him on the executive I know that we owe a great deal to him. He is much loved by the membership and his understanding of education issues was tremendous.

NGC without Jack will be a sadder place."

Married three times, Jack listed his interests as "thinking, pursuit of justice, music and talking" in Who's Who. He is survived by his two daughters and a son.

Jack Morrish, born September 23, 1915, died March 7, 2003 Thanks to Susan Marsh for her help in compiling this obituary.

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