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Loss of a groundbreaker

Pioneering governor who led the way in the North-east. Karen Thornton reports

A LEADING figure in school governance has died suddenly while on a skiing holiday in Austria.

Harry Wills, 59, was head of school and governor support services at Durham education authority. He was jointly leading a new national training programme for clerks under contract to the Department for Education and Skills.

Colleagues in Consortium 52, due to deliver the draft programme to the DfES at the end of January, said it would be dedicated to Harry.

Joy Bellis, a director of the consortium, said the motorbiker and keen gardener was "a super bloke" and very supportive of colleagues.

"He was forward-looking, approachable, interested in people, in governors, good to have as a colleague and friend. He will be sadly missed and difficult to replace."

A former headteacher at three primary schools, Harry was seconded to Durham LEA as governor training co-ordinator in 1989, an appointment that was made permanent three years later. At that time, the governor training unit consisted of Harry and a secretary, but he gradually built it up to become an internationally renowned centre of excellence.

He helped to establish the Durham County Association of Governors, and influenced national and regional governor groups, representing the National Co-ordinators of Governor Services on the DfES's advisory group on governance (AGOG). He was also a qualified Ofsted inspector.

He was promoted to head of Durham's school and governor support service in January 1999. The service became the first one in an LEA to achieve ISO 9002, the internationally recognised quality management system.

Last year, he became a director of Consortium 52, made up of 52 northern LEAs and church authorities, which won the DfES contract to develop a training programme for clerks to governing bodies.

Dr Carol Woodhouse, an independent consultant, said: "He loved life. He threw himself into everything he was doing, and enjoyed the challenge. You couldn't think of governor training in the North-east without Harry - he's been such a big part of it."

Keith Mitchell, Durham's director of education, said: "His warmth, professionalism and commitment were reciprocated by all who had the privilege to work with him."

Trevor Gordon, of the DfES's school governance unit, who worked with Harry on the clerks' training programme, said: "Harry was a lovely man and very well respected. He was humorous, dedicated, a valuable member of the DfES's AGOG team. It's very sad that he won't see the national programme through to its conclusion."

In a statement, Harry's family said: "Despite a heavy workload, Harry remained cheerful and devoted to his family and friends."

Harry leaves a wife, Margaret, three daughters, two sons, and a granddaughter. His funeral, at Barnard Castle Methodist church, took place on January 17.

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