Obituary - Gerry German - 1928-2012

Adi Bloom

Gerry German has been described as a rottweiler dressed as a labrador. He seemed placid, but if you got on the wrong side of him, he had a hell of a bite.

Raymond Arthur German was born in North Wales in January 1928. The son of an impoverished miner, he won a scholarship to grammar school.

Gerry, as he was known from his teen years onwards, went on to study German at Bangor University. There he met Jamaican student Patricia Bell; they married in 1952.

After graduation, he refused to enlist for national service and appeared before court as a conscientious objector. To avoid a prison sentence, he and Patricia moved to her native Jamaica. There, they both took up posts at Knox College. The young Mr German was notable for his enthusiasm: he was known to burst into song for no apparent reason. He believed that talent was unrelated to race or class, and insisted that hard work could counterbalance poverty.

In 1960, he took up the headship of Jamaica's Manchester High School. Here, working with troublemakers was his real strength. When tackling bullies, he would pull on his boxing gloves, throw the bully another pair and say: "You like to fight other people? So fight me." But he also listened: they could always come to his office to talk.

Fiercely pro-Jamaican, he introduced local literature into the curriculum. This was a step too far for the then still conservative post-Colonial authorities, and in 1966 Gerry, Patsy and their five children headed back to Britain.

His first British post was at Isaac Newton School in West London. Ignoring an unwritten rule barring teachers from pupils' toilets, Mr German walked straight into the boys' loos to catch out regular smokers. He was not afraid of confrontation: if he waded into battle, he tended to win.

In 1972, he was offered the headship of Mold Alun School in North Wales. This was his proud homecoming: he was the local boy made good. It did not last.

The school was a new comprehensive, incorporating a former grammar where pupils had been sent home for wearing the wrong tie. Mr German, however, had a policy of tolerance, inclusion and uniform laissez-faire. He was fired in 1976.

There followed three years teaching in Nigeria, after which he returned to work for the Commission for Racial Equality.

Following retirement in 1981, he worked at combating racism in children's literature. And, in 2000, he set up the Communities Empowerment Network, mentoring, supporting and advocating on behalf of excluded pupils. He commuted to Brixton from Hampton, in Middlesex, every day. "Thank God for the Freedom Pass," Mrs German would say.

His family had long ago learned that they had to share him with others. "He's the father I didn't have," people said to his children; he was the father they didn't have, either. But he was a man with a vision and a mission, and his life was defined by his values.

Gerry German died on 3 May, after a full working day.

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Adi Bloom

Adi Bloom is Tes comment editor

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